By Frederick H. Lowe
President Barack Obama has declared an emergency exists in Michigan because of high levels of lead found in Flint’s drinking water that can cause permanent physical damage to the city’s residents.
President Obama’s action on Friday authorizes the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate disaster relief efforts to alleviate hardships and suffering caused by an emergency.
On Thursday, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder asked for federal aid for Genesee County, where Flint is located.
Gov. Snyder declared a state of emergency on January 5th for Genesee County, following the county’s local emergency declaration on January 4th.
The declaration makes available all state resources in cooperation with local response and recovery efforts in Genesee County as outlined in the Michigan Emergency Management Plan.
Last August, Virginia Tech researchers reported 42 percent of 120 initial samples from Flint’s water supply evidenced lead levels that were higher than 5 parts per billion, “which suggests a serious lead-in-water problem, according to our experience and criteria.”
Cher and Icelandic donate bottled water
In addition to getting help from federal, state and local governments, Cher, the Academy Award winning actress and Emmy Award winning singer, has teamed with Icelandic Glacial to donate 181, 440 bottles of water to Flint. The water will begin arriving Wednesday at the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan, which is based in Flint. The water will be distributed to community centers, food banks and fire stations located in low-income areas.
Icelandic Glacial is a super-premium spring water bottled in Iceland.
Cher has been monitoring events in Flint and she has been working with Mayor Karen Weaver. Cher has been an outspoken critic of Michigan’s lack or response and commitment to Flint.
“This is a tragedy of staggering proportion and shocking that it’s happening in the middle of our country,” Cher said. “I am so grateful that Icelandic Global has come on board to help the city of Flint.”
Lead and learning disabilities
High levels of lead poisoning causes learning disabilities, making it hard to read, to write, to speak, to pay attention, to sit still in school and to understand what has been said or what has been read.
Lead poisoning especially affects infants, children and expectant mothers, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
Lead poisoning is such a serious national problem, especially among African-American children, the CDC hosts a national lead poisoning prevention week annually.
Freddie Gray, 25, who died in Baltimore Police custody in April, suffered from lead paint poisoning as a child, which affected his ability to learn and to stay in school. Gray and his family suffered from lead poisoning caused by lead-based house paint, which is now illegal, not water containing lead.
Flint, 66 miles northwest of Detroit, is a city of more than 99,000; 56.6 % of its population is African American.
Residents drinking bottled water
Since October, the city’s residents have been drinking and cooking with bottled water to avoid ingesting contaminated tap water. Gov Snyder has activated the Michigan National Guard to distribute bottled water and water filters to Flint residents in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
Flint, which is financially strapped and under control of a state-appointed emergency manager, switched from drinking tap water from Lake Huron to drinking water from the Flint River in April 2014 as a money-saving strategy. Lake Huron supplies water to Detroit. In October, Flint switched back to getting its drinking water from Lake Huron.
Water from corrosive pipes that supply water to Flint from the Flint River leach lead. Residents complained the water looked darker, murky, smelled foul and tasted strange. A concerned local physician tested the water and confirmed what he had feared — there were high levels of lead in the water. In October, Flint residents were urged not to drink the water.
Lead poisoning is measured in micrograms per deciliter (ug/dl), according to the Centers for Disease Control. Drinking water with a high lead content is just one way a person can become infected by lead. Other ways include eating peeling lead-based paint, or eating a toy’s paint. These are common ways young children ingest lead.
The National Institute for Environmental Sciences reported that blood levels greater than or equal to 5µg/dL cause neurological abnormalities that in turn give rise to decreased academic achievement in children. The Centers for Disease Control in 2012 defined a reference level of 5 micrograms per deciliter to identify children with elevated blood lead levels.
Some 2.3 percent of Flint children younger than 6 years old tested between October 1,2015, and January 8,2016, had blood lead levels greater than or equal to 5ug/dL.
Only 10 children under six years of age were tested, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
In adults, blood levels greater than or equal to 5µg/dL decreases kidney function.
Lead poisoning greater than or equal to 10 µg/dL delays puberty and decreases IQs in children. It causes increased hypertension in adults.
What emergency relief means
President Obama’s approval for emergency relief will arrive in the form of water, water filters, filter replacements and water test kits. The period of assistance will be in force up to 90 days.
Under the Stafford Act for emergency assistance, resources totaling $5 million can be used for federal emergencies, and the state is required to match 25 percent of those funds.
If the $5 million is exhausted, Congress has the option to approve additional funding.