Mayor Karen Weaver of Flint, Michigan, has declared a state of emergency in the city after finding that the use of water from the Flint River — which was found to contain excessive levels of trihalomethanes, a byproduct of chlorine that has been linked to cancer — was poisoning the city’s children in droves.
“This damage to children is irreversible and can cause effects to a child’s IQ, which will result in learning disabilities and the need for special education and mental health services and an increase to the juvenile justice system,” a grim notice from the mayor’s office read.
The city — which switched to the Flint River last April as its water source from the Detroit water system in an effort to cut costs during a financial crisis — began receiving complaints about the color and foul odor of the Flint River water, but initially denied that it posed a risk to citizens. It was discovered that the city had made the switch to the new water source without planning corrosion control. The switch to Flint River water was temporary, and the city returned to the Detroit water system in October.
“What we discovered to our shock was that they switched to a new water source that was obviously very corrosive, meaning it would eat up the lead pipe and iron pipe and essentially put the metals into the water, without controlling the corrosion,” Marc Edwards, a civil engineering professor at Virginia Tech University told All Things Considered. “And this is a horrible idea in a city full of lead plumbing and lead pipe like Flint.”
In September, local doctors began issuing warnings about the widespread signs of lead poisoning established by a large set of blood samples from local children. As of the state of emergency declared on Monday, December 14, the city has initiated “action supporting this state of emergency,” which will include the services of more foster and adoptive parents “as a result of social services needed due to the detrimental effects of the high blood lead levels.”