Flint, Michigan – The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report showing how much damage had lead exposure caused to Flint’s population from 2013 to 2016. The institution, which is one of the few ones that regulate this kind of problem, said that due to the lack of corrosion control on the primary source of water, the people started getting poisoned by the toxic metal. Even though it presented the information this Friday, the presence of lead has been a problem in the United States for a very long time.
Back in 2014, Flint’s main source of tap water was the Detroit Water Authority (DWA) which took the water from Lake Huron. However, in that year, the governor authorized a change of providers and the city started working with the Flint Water System (FWS) which took the liquid from the Flint River.
Everything seemed to be perfectly fine until the CDC detected high levels of lead in the blood tests of the local population. Before the switch, the average sample contained around 3% lead, but after FWS had become the leading provider, that number changed to 5% which is very dangerous for people, in particular for children. In 2015, local programs joined forces with the CDC and reported that children under the age of 6 had dangerous levels of lead in their blood which ultimately made the officials go back to DWA.
An investigation crew arrived in the city to try and understand why there was so much lead in tap water. They found dangerous levels of different chemicals in the water including the metal and went straight to the FWS central facility. There, they discovered that the anti-corrosion control measures had not been applied to the pipes which are made of lead. Consequently, water started damaging the structures making them leak dangerous elements into the water.
— ABC News (@ABC) May 8, 2016
The world discovered lead was hazardous in the early 1900s
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), lead is a cumulative toxin that affects the body in many different ways. It harms or disrupts the function of the neurological, hematologic, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and renal systems. The ones most vulnerable to it are children, it has been proven that several exposures to the metal in the first six years of life can end up in permanent neurological damage, IQ lowering, and much more. In fact, the organization reports that around 600,000 new cases of children with intellectual disabilities are accounted to lead exposure every year.
The governments around the world have known the risks of using this metal, and in fact, they banned it. However, the United States did not immediately follow this trend. The North American industry actually installed thousands of lead pipes around the country, and used the metal as a preserver for paint, both for the house and gigantic projects like bridges, but things drastically changed after a controversial documentary addressed the issue.
Consequently, a lot of people credit him for the political movements that end up in lead being banned from paint and oil. After that happened, the lead levels in the blood of children drastically went down in the whole country.
— Foursquare Church (@WeAreFoursquare) June 25, 2016
Lead in water is just the tip of the iceberg
Since men realized how useful the metal was to preserve some products like paint or oil, they have applied it everywhere. It is cheaper than steel or almost any other usable metal which further complicates the issue. The government banned this company to continue using the element, but there was a lot of it in the country already. According to the CDC, around two million houses still have painted with lead, and around half a million children aged under six have elevated levels of the toxin in their systems.
But those are just the known sources, the problem people faced in Flint due to lead pipes could occur anywhere in the United States. According to authorities, there are just too many of these kinds of structures, and the officials don’t know their exact location. This makes corrosion control a critical measure against lead poisoning.
A Federal Strategy Targeting Lead Paint Hazards estimated that identifying the sources nationwide and then, removing them would cost around $16 billion a year for ten years. The report was released in 2000, but even though a much cheaper plan was proposed, the amount of money spent on lead removal is just not enough. John Oliver, the host of Last Week Tonight, addressed this topic earlier this year in one of his shows.
What is more, the International Lead Association presents reports that say the United States is really into lead mining. For example, in 2012, around 5 tons of the metal was mined around the world and the US is number three only bested by China and Australia.
Also, the annual production that year rose up to ten and a half million tons, and yes, the US was number 2 in the countries with most lead production. What is more, the organization also says that around ten and a half tons of the metal was used worldwide, and the North American country is only behind China, a country fairly infamous for its contamination levels.