A recent study found that lead-poisoned water in Flint, Michigan, possibly led to a substantial drop in the number of babies born there.

A group of researchers found that after Flint leaders decided to save money by switching the town’s water supply source in 2014, the city saw an unprecedented rise in miscarriages and stillbirths.

Flint Water Plant. Image credit: CNN

Moreover, Flint has also seen an increase in babies born with health complications, according to the researchers. The new study was held to assess the damage that lead-poisoned water has caused on Flint residents, and to add pressure to legislators and leaders to help the affected community.

Fetal deaths in Flint reach ‘horrifyingly large’ all-time high

The report was conducted by Daniel Grossman from West Virginia University and David Slusky from the University of Kansas. The co-authors estimated that fetal deaths, or “pregnancies lasting more than 20 weeks that do not result in a live birth,” increased by a “horrifyingly large” rate of 58 percent.

Grossman and Slusky did not include abortions for the statistics. However, they found that, overall, the number of live births fell by 12 percent during the last couple of years in Flint.

Furthermore, the researchers said that among babies conceived from November 2013 through March 2015, between 198 and 276 more newborns “would have been born had Flint not enacted the switch in water.”

Meanwhile, the authors noted that in neighboring Michigan cities, such as Dearborn, Detroit, Grand Rapids, and Lansing, trends in fertility and birth outcomes remained stable. In fact, those cities did not see a fertility drop-off among their citizens, and the only distinct difference between those towns and Flint was the change in water supply.

“It’s a tragic but unintentionally well-set-up natural experiment,” co-author Slusky told the Huffington Post.

Flint is one of the several American cities that have lead water pipes, despite dangers linked to lead poisoning, such as child brain damage and countless health complications. Federal law requires such cities to add chemicals to their water to form a protective coating on the inside of the pipes, preventing corrosion. However, Flint failed to treat its water as it was supposed to do so after it changed its water source to the Flint River three years ago.

Flint homes have lead concentrations of 12 parts per billion in their water

Grossman and Slusky also noted that recent studies have linked “maternal lead exposure to fetal death, prenatal growth abnormalities, reduced gestational period, and reduced birth weight.” They also pointed that, historically, lead has been associated with increased fetal death and infant mortality rates.

Water samples from a Flint home. Image credit: FlintWaterStudy.org

In April, a report by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission concluded that the underlying issue of the Flint water crisis is both historical and systemic, and was caused by systemic racism. That doesn’t mean those who caused the crisis were racist attempting to harm others, but nevertheless, systemic racism allowed it.

Flint’s population is 53 percent African American, and 45 percent of its residents live below the federal poverty line, as reported by The Washington Post. By the end of last year, at least 10 percent of Flint homes had lead concentrations of 12 parts per billion or higher in their water, thrice the level observed in Detroit.

While the EPA sets the threshold for safe drinking water at 15 parts of lead per billion, the World Health Organizations claims “there is no known level of lead exposure that is considered safe.”

Source: Alternet