Flint Water Crisis – Lead Exposure

What Lead to the Flint Water Crisis

Most environmental issues that are human made result from actions that put finances ahead of public safety. Flint lost over 20% of its population in five years and was in a serious financial crisis. The population that remained was predominately poor and racial minorities (Flint Water Advisory Task Force, 2016; U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). Consequently, there was a fewer resident to share the burden of paying for the water system and the city made difficult decisions about how to address the cost shortfalls (Faust, Abraham, & McElmurry, 2016).

Rick Snyder appointed an emergency manager in 2011 under Michigan’s Emergency Financial Manager Act giving him the authority to control the city’s finances and ultimately decisions that lead to the crisis (The Network for Public Health Law, 2016). The Emergency Manager signed a contract with Karengnondi Water Authority pipeline in 2013 to reduce the cost (Flint Water Advisory Task Force, 2016). In April of 2014, the Emergency Manager switched the city’s water to the Flint River despite the risk of improper corrosion control of the water system and the unpreparedness of the Water Treatment Plant to operate at the needed capacity (Flint Water Advisory Task Force, 2016).

Flint residents immediately noticed the changes in water quality in terms of color, taste, and odor (Hanna-Attisha, LaChance, Sadler, & Schnepp, 2016). The presence of E. coli and disinfection byproducts (e.g. total trihalomethanes) were discovered in Flint’s water (The Network for Public Health Law, 2016). The corrosive nature of the untreated water also resulted in lead being leached from the aging water pipes (Flint Water Advisory Task Force, 2016).

Link to Chronic Conditions

Lead exposure affects multiple body systems including the neurological system, brain, liver, kidneys, and bones. Because lead accumulates over time children are the most vulnerable to this neurotoxin. Serious health consequences from lead exposure among children include poor brain development and behavioral changes, decreased IQ, shortened attention span, and increased antisocial behavior (WHO, 2016). Among all age groups, lead exposure can also cause anemia, high blood pressure, kidney and brain disease, muscle weakness, and even death (WHO, 2016).

Diagnosis and Treatment

CDC Lead Poisoning Prevention and Treatment Recommendations for Refugee Children

Preventing Lead Poisoning in Young Children: Chapter 7

Lead Toxicity: How Should Patients Exposed to Lead be Treated and Managed

Lead Exposure during Pregnancy

Links to Ongoing Follow-up

Childhood Blood Lead Testing and Follow-up Guidelines for Children 6 – 72 Months of Age for Missouri

Guidelines for Follow-up of Children with Elevated Blood Lead Levels for Local Health Department Lead Poisoning Prevention Programs

EPA Flint Drinking Water Response 

Other Links of Interest

Lead – State Programs Links

Health People 2020 Environmental Health


Prevent Childhood Lead Poisoning 


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By: Lyly Bui & Roberta Lavin

For more information contact Roberta Lavin lavinr@umsl.edu

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