Wishing he was Superman
The toxic water crisis in Flint, Michigan, makes columnist fear for his daugher.
May 12, 2016 - 1:00 pm
What’s happening in my hometown of Flint, Michigan — the poisoning of water and the poisoning of trust — allows me little peace of mind.
With my daughter Cameo and her husband live there.
A recent speech by President Barack Obama at my high school, Flint Northwestern, did nothing to lessen my anxiety. Thousands of Flint residents endured 18 months of state sanctioned poisoning. Watching the president sip Flint water that’s now safe — only if you know how to use the right filter — seemed better suited for “Saturday Night Live” than CNN.
Whenever any of my four children might be in harm’s way — Cameo worries her long exposure to toxic water could hurt her chances of giving birth to healthy babies — I wake up with an ache in my head and go to bed with an ache in my heart.
Every parent dreads being unable to protect their children. The illnesses or accidents or misfortunes of your children, when they rise above a fever, a common cold, a few stitches or an unrequited puppy love, create a sense of foreboding that never entirely goes away.
After Cameo somehow lived through a grinding crash in Flint a little more than two years ago— her 4,000-pound Ford Fiesta was crushed by a 40,000-pound city bus — her mother and I set sail on thankful teardrops, praying our family’s journey into the future didn’t include another association with catastrophe.
A few months later, as she dealt with crippling muscular injuries, Cameo’s hair fell out in clumps after she showered. Rashes developed. Doctors thought it could be stress.
It turned out that she experienced the first signs of a crisis in Flint that has now been reported internationally. Soon after a governor-appointed administrator oversaw an April 2014 change in Flint’s municipal water supply to save money — switching from Lake Huron to the Flint River — people, including Cameo, told authorities the water smelled and tasted foul.
They were told it was safe by local, state and federal officials. Documents now show, however, Flint’s water was anything but. Bacterial and chemical contamination was present. And no corrosion control additives were part of the new water supply, allowing rust, iron and especially dangerous lead from aging pipes to flow into residents’ homes.
“I trust no one in government anymore,” Cameo told me in a Tuesday phone call.
I tell my proud University of Michigan graduate, a manager for a national firm, a woman who used to campaign for people who she thought could build a better society, that she’s angry, that there are some good people in government.
“Sure I’m angry,” she said. “But they didn’t care if we all died. I want nothing to do with government.”
Government officials are now accused — three criminally — of ignoring, denying or covering up problems that left thousands of children and adults exposed to toxic lead in their drinking water for 18 months. Though officials, including Obama, say it’s now safe to drink with a filter, few residents have stopped drinking bottled water donated from around the country. Experts have long said it’s safest for the city’s lead pipes to be replaced before drinking water from the tap.
Though much has been written about the likely long-term consequences of lead poisoning in children — lower IQs and difficulty focusing — it is also true that lead poisoning in adults can be devastating.
Dr. Joe Iser, head of the Southern Nevada Health District, notes that lead is stored in bones. Whenever bones release calcium, lead also leeches into the blood — during pregnancy, breast feeding , menopause and old age. Once in the blood, it contributes to hypertension, kidney disease and possibly dementia.
With lead also seeping into the womb and breast milk, it exposes developing babies to a toxin when their brains are most vulnerable. Research shows babies born to mothers with high lead levels tend to be smaller and get lower scores on tests of mental development at age 2.
Studies also show at-risk mothers may benefit from heavy calcium supplements, which reduces the body’s need to draw the calcium, and lead, out of bone, protecting the fetus.
“I have to get tested because I want kids, but it scares me,” Cameo said.
Me, too, Cameo. Me too.
Paul Harasim’s column runs Sunday, Tuesday and Friday in the Nevada section and Thursday in the Life section. Contact him at email@example.com or 702-387-5273. Follow him on Twitter: @paulharasim