The drinking water in Flint, Michigan is contaminated with lead.
And the city may be at fault. The Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC) alleges that officials there knew about the risks of shifting the city’s water supply from Detroit’s Lake Huron to the Flint River, but did so anyway — ostensibly to cut costs.
This morning, Flint residents, along with NRDC and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), announced their intent to sue Michigan state and local municipal officials for allegedly violating the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.
The problem likely began with Michigan’s inland rivers and lakes, which contain far higher amounts of chloride ions than the Great Lakes, thanks to copious amounts of road salt applied to nearby roads.
When that salty water is pumped into the city’s ageing infrastructure, it corrodes the pipes, leaching lead into the drinking water.
Residents began to complain about the smell and discoloration of the water soon after the city started drawing water from the Flint River over a year and a half ago, but these complaints were written off by state officials for months, the NRDC alleges.
Drinking water laced with lead ends up in your blood, and that’s where it starts to cause problems. Even at extremely low concentrations (the CDC says 5 micgrograms per deciliter is enough to cause concern), lead in blood has been linked with a range of deleterious behavioural and mental health impacts. In young children, exposure to lead in drinking water at these levels can delay mental and physical development and affect attention span and learning, according to the EPA. In adults, it can raise blood pressure and, in the long term, can lead to kidney problems.
The EPA limits the amount of lead allowed in drinking water at 15 parts-per-billion, but states that there is really no safe level. In other words, the EPA’s goal is to have no lead at all in drinking water supply, but it will tolerate up to 15 parts-per-billion.
A Virginia Tech study from last summer found that 40.1% of water samples from Flint homes contained over 5 parts-per-billion of lead. The researchers also reported that the 90th percentile lead level in Flint homes was 25.2 parts-per-billion — well over the EPA’s reccomendation.
A study by a local pediatrician also found that the proportion of Flint children under the age of five with elevated lead blood levels had doubled since the city switched its water sources.
The NRDC asserts that, since April 2014, officials in the city of Flint and the state of Michigan failed to adequately monitor and control for lead in Flint’s drinking water, and maintain a program to assist Michigan schools with lead testing and remediation — amounting to clear violations of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.
If government officials, including Governor Rick Snyder and Department of Environmental Quality Dan Snyder don’t address the violations within the next sixty days, they will be sued in a federal court.
Business Insider has reached out to the representative from the city of Flint and the state of Michigan and will update the story when we recieve a comment.
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