Friday, September 22, 2017

What's in your water?

Here’s a startling number from FiveThirtyEight’s significant digits email this morning.

58 percent
The full consequences of the Flint water crisis are still coming to light: Fertility rates dropped 12 percent while women in the city were exposed to increased lead in their drinking water, according to a new study. Fetal death rates rose by 58 percent. [Detroit Free Press]

Here is more from the Detroit Free Press article.

Fertility rates decreased by 12% among Flint women, and fetal death rates increased by 58%, after April 2014, according to research by assistant professors and health economists David Slusky at Kansas University and Daniel Grossman at West Virginia University. The pair examined vital statistics data for Flint and the rest of the state of Michigan from 2008 to 2015, zoomed down to the census-tract level.

That post-April 2014 time period is significant, because that’s when — in an effort to save money — the city of Flint switched from water supplied by the city of Detroit to using the Flint River as a drinking water source, without adding needed anti-corrosives to the water. Lead levels in drinking water supplies spiked as a result.

The problem, however, wasn’t acknowledged by Gov. Rick Snyder and state health and environmental officials until late September 2015 — months after Virginia Tech researcher Marc Edwards and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency manager Miguel Del Toral alerted state and federal officials of their concerns, and weeks after Flint pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha’s own research showed children’s lead blood levels were rising in Flint.

Slusky said he hopes his findings inform policy-makers.

“Flint was a government failure — enough people have been indicted that there’s a reasonable consensus around that,” he said.

“We know monitoring the water, and putting the right types of anti-corrosives in it, is not free, is not cheap. Now I’ve told you what the cost of not doing something is, and what the benefit is. That’s the hope of this kind of research; quantify the benefit.”

For more details on the research study and the politics of lead in Flint’s water, see the Detroit Free Press article Flint water killed unborn babies; many moms who drank it couldn’t get pregnant and the reporting by FiveThirtyEight in What Went Wrong In Flint. There you will find that the effects of lead, a neurotoxin, extend beyond fertility and fetal deaths to biology and behavior of adults and children.

Now, with cuts to the EPA by the Trump administration (including Trump and Scott Pruitt as the stand-ins for Rick Snyder), we have a chance to replicate the Flint disaster on a national scale. Then you will discover the answer to my title question.

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