Nearly two years after the first reports of Flint’s contaminated water, Michigan has finally received funding to create a registry for affected residents.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will award $14.4 million over four years to Michigan State University to create a registry for Flint residents exposed to lead-contaminated water. The water crisis, which began in 2014, put nearly 100,000 Flint residents at risk, and it took more than a year of resident complaints for the city government to come up with an action plan. Flint residents are still recommended to steer clear from drinking unfiltered water.
The Flint Lead Exposure Registry, directly funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the budget of which Trump proposes to cut by more than $1 billion), will enable officials to identify and monitor residents exposed to lead-contaminated water and connect them to health services, according to Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, who is leading the registry effort.
“The registry will be a powerful tool to understand, measure, and improve the lives of those exposed to the contaminated water,” said Hanna-Attisha in a written statement. “The more people who participate in the registry, the more powerful this tool will be for Flint and for communities everywhere that continue to suffer from preventable lead exposure.”
President Barack Obama signed the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act in December of 2016, almost a year after Michigan’s senators proposed an aid package for Flint. The act granted Flint $170 million in recovery funds, including $100 million in March from the Environmental Protection Agency for updating drinking-water infrastructure, and the August 1 announcement of funding for the registry.
“Though the State of Michigan has the primary responsibility to support long-term recovery efforts in Flint, the federal government should have stepped in long ago to provide emergency assistance for an American city in crisis,” said Michigan Senator Gary Peters after the act’s passage.
The crisis in Flint began in April 2014, when the city, under state emergency management, switched its water supply from Detroit’s system to the Flint River, which had not been treated for corrosion. In September 2015, Hanna-Attisha reported that, after Flint switched to the Flint River source, the number of children with elevated blood-lead levels had almost doubled—from 2.1 percent to 4 percent.
Research conducted by Virginia Tech found water in one Flint resident’s home to have lead levels between 200 and 13,200 parts per billion, far exceeding the EPA’s action threshold of 15 parts per billion. According to the EPA, “In children, low levels of exposure have been linked to damage to the central and peripheral nervous system, learning disabilities, shorter stature, impaired hearing, and impaired formation and function of blood cells.”
In January 2016, President Obama declared a state of emergency in Flint, authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover up to $5 million in costs for water, filters, and other supplies needed by residents. Flint switched back to its original Detroit source in October, and while lead levels improved, officials still advise residents to drink filtered or bottled water.
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver and the head of Flint’s pipe-replacement program have said that Flint is still years away from having safe unfiltered water.