The Flint, Michigan, Water Crisis and Lead Poisoning

Chandler Mores
November 26, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2017


Fig. 1: Citizens protesting the Flint water crisis. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Most citizens of the United States are familiar with the Flint, Michigan, water crisis and its devastating effects on citizens of the city. In November 2011, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder declared a financial emergency for the city of Flint. In order to save around $18 million, the government decided to cancel Flint's agreement with Detroit and instead use the nearby Flint River for temporary water usage while the building of a new pipeline to Lake Huron was in progress. [1] The new water supply from the Flint River began in April of 2014, officials did not use anti-corrosion, and soon residents began to notice strange odors and discoloration coming from their water. As one can see in Fig. 1, residents began protesting the water condition.

The Issue

The State of Michigan declared a state of emergency nearly a year after residents began complaining of their water's state, but there was a slow response from officials that actually prolonged the water's horrible effects. [1] Lead poisoning is one of the most dangerous side-effects that has arisen from the Flint water crisis. From October 2015 to January 2016, Flint Community Schools measured lead in its water ranging from 61 ppb to as much as 2,800 ppb. [2] Ppb stands for parts per billion and it is used to measure small concentrations in water. This is highly problematic because federal law mandates that a lead level of 15 ppb and higher is unsafe and requires immediate action. [2] Near the end of 2016, ten percent of homes were at 12 ppb or higher - which is three times higher than Detroit's lead concentration. [3]

As of January 2017, most Flint residents still cannot drink water from their faucets; they have to resort to using bottled water for bathing, cooking, and brushing their teeth. [4] More than twelve state and local officials have been criminally charged for the decision to use water from Flint River, and for possibly knowing of the side-effects and not doing anything. [4] However, 4,000 Flint homes have received new faucets because the old faucets could increase the lead contamination in the resident's water supply. [4]

Lead Poisoning and Its Effects on Babies

The amount of lead in Flint's water is so concerning that there have been studies on the possible effects of miscarriages and fetal death. Health economists at Kansas University are claiming that there could have been approximately 198 to 276 more births in Flint if the water crisis had not occurred. [3] In communities that are affected by lead-poisoned water, there is a 58% increase in fetal deaths compared to communities not affected by lead poisoned water. But the Kansas University economists believe that this number is less than the actual amount due to the exclusion of abortion numbers. [3] When mothers are exposed to lead, fetal deaths, prenatal growth abnormalities, reduced gestational period, and reduced birth weight may occur. [3] In addition, children having been exposed to lead may have problems later in life relating to cognitive and behavioral abnormalities or disabilities.

Much is left to be done in eradicating the effects of the Flint water crisis, and a lot of time, money, and effort needs to be implemented to save and protect the residents.

© Chandler Mores. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] A. R. Highsmith, "Flint's Toxic Water Crisis Was 50 Years in the Making," Los Angeles Times, 29 Jan 16.

[2] J. Chambers, "ACLU Wants Flint Kids Screened For Impact of Lead," The Detroit News, 18 Oct 17.

[3] C. Ingraham, "Flint's Lead-Poisoned Water Had a Horrifyingly Large Effect on Fetal Deaths, Study Finds," Washington Post, 21 Sep 17.

[4] J. Sanburn, "Flint's Crisis Still Isn't Over. Here's Where Things Stand a Year Later," Time, 18 Jan 17.