Years after a contaminated water source corroded pipes and leached toxic lead into the drinking water of Flint, Michigan, scientists have revealed that the crisis may be causing miscarriages and affecting infant health.
A recent study found that fertility rates decreased by 12% and fetal death rates increased by 58% in Flint in comparison with other Michigan cities since the start of the water crisis in April 2014.
The link between lead exposure and miscarriages has not been established, the report acknowledged, but researchers have encouraged Flint women who miscarried, had a stillbirth, or have a baby with health problems to enlist in a federally funded registry for those exposed to the toxic water.
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Though the report is new, several women have come forward to share stories about their miscarriages since the lead levels were revealed.
“I’m only 30, I’ve had normal healthy pregnancies, and four beautiful, healthy children,” Flint resident Rachel Lauren, told Rewire. “Now, all of a sudden, I can’t carry a baby?”
Flint women and other local activists say they want to shine a spotlight on a continuing crisis that has faded from public view over the past few years.
“There is not enough being said about it,” Latiya Wakes, a Flint resident who has experienced two miscarriages since the water crisis began, told Rewire. “I’m worried whether my 18-year-old daughter will be able to have children.”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), lead threatens various internal organs, including the brain, liver, and kidneys and is especially dangerous to children because it impedes brain development and nervous system functioning. There is no safe level of lead exposure, WHO advises.
The Flint crisis began soon after the state of Michigan took control of Flint’s finances and switched water sources as a cost-cutting measure. The state did not treat the new water supply with chemicals to prevent the corrosion of Flint’s infrastructure, which allowed lead from aging pipes to leach into the drinking water.
In 2015, various researchers, activists, and pediatricians alerted the state to the elevated lead levels. One research team found that the lead level in children had nearly doubled since the state changed Flint’s water source.
Two years ago, a federal judge ordered the city and state to ensure the delivery of nearly 100 half-liter bottles of water each week to Flint residents until the city resolved its water crisis. As the water system has improved, the city has begun closing its bottled water distribution facilities — but residents remain wary of any promises related to their tap water.