Growing up in Detroit, I would occasionally drive one-hour to Flint, Michigan to hang out with friends near the banks of the Flint River (pictured).
Back then, more than 40 years ago, we would eat at fast-food restaurants and drink water straight from the tap without fear of getting lead poisoning.
Today, times have changed: Flint is experiencing a widespread health crisis that has impacted thousands of children who have been diagnosed with lead in their bloodstreams.
It’s sad, it’s a humanitarian catastrophe — and it borders on criminal.
Health officials say that 8,177 children younger than five who live in Flint — a city that is 60% African-American– have been exposed to lead, according to records from the Census Bureau.
And long-term exposure for infants and children can lead to “delays in physical or mental development; children could show slight deficits in attention span and learning abilities,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
“There’s real danger that the injury is going to be permanent and lifelong in them,” Dr. Philip Landrigan, Dean of Global Health at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, told CBS News.
It’s a shame that Flint officials put the lives of so many children and adults at risk to save money. In April 2014, Flint officials decided to cut costs by switching its water source from Lake Huron water, supplied by the Detroit water system, to water from the Flint River. Residents immediately began complaining about the water’s taste and also said it was cloudy and had a foul smell.
The health situation has gotten so dire that President Barack Obama allocated $80 million in federal funds to improve the city’s water systems.
“Our children should not have to be worried about the water that they’re drinking in American cities,” Obama said last week at the White House. “That’s not something that we should accept.”
The president is right — and his comment raises another critical question: If so many Flint residents were severely harmed because they drank contaminated water, have any Flint’s city officials — who presumably live in Flint — reported that they have also been exposed to lead poisoning from the polluted water?