The water crisis in Flint, Mich., that has exposed the city’s residents to toxic levels of lead took on new political urgency last week as Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder apologized for the contamination in his annual State of the State address and pledged to fix the problem amid growing calls for his resignation.
President Barack Obama also declaredan emergency in the city, freeing up as much as $5 million in federal aid to assist with the public-health crisis and said in a speech last week in nearby Detroit that if he were a parent in Flint, he would be “beside myself that my kids’ health could be at risk.”
For months, the 5,500-student Flint district—with an enrollment that is mostly low-income and African-American—has been supplying its schools with bottled water to reduce the risk of exposure for students and staff members. The water faucets and drinking fountains in four of Flint’s schools tested above the federal limits for lead content—one at more than six times the federal limit.
The man-made catastrophe started nearly two years ago, while the financially strapped city was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager. That’s when officials decided to save money by switching the city’s water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River, a tributary with water so toxic that General Motors didn’t want it used at its engine plant in Flint. That move introduced lead and iron into the water, and even though the city stopped using the Flint River as its water source last fall, concerns remain high because the aging pipes and service lines still release lead.
In the time since the switch to the contaminated-water source, the proportion of infants and children with above-average levels of lead in their blood has nearly doubled, according to a study released last September by the Hurley Medical Center in Flint.
A version of this article appeared in the January 27, 2016 edition of Education Week as Flint’s Toxic Water Causes Wide-Ranging Fallout