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Federal government declares state of emergency over lead poisoning epidemic in children

Flint Michigan

(NaturalNews) The Obama administration has declared a federal state of emergency in Flint, Michigan, due to pervasive contamination of the city's water supply that has harmed tens of thousands of residents – including afflicting the city's children with irreversible lead poisoning.

The crisis began in April 2014, when the city sought to save money by pulling water from the contaminated Flint River rather than piping it in from Detroit's municipal supply. This measure was meant to be temporary, pending the construction of a pipeline to bring water in from Lake Huron.

Residents immediately began complaining that the water was cloudy and foul-smelling. Over the following months, government officials kept insisting that the water was safe, even as the city's children started to show signs of sickness and brain damage.

Children poisoned while government drags its feet

Lead is a potent neurotoxin that accumulates in the body. It can cause permanent brain damage, particularly in children. There is no safe level of lead exposure.

The summer of 2014 saw growing calls for the city to stop drawing water from the Flint River, spurred by growing health complaints and the finding of fecal contamination in the river. In October 2014, a General Motors engine plant announced that municipal water had been rusting its parts. In January 2015, the city of Detroit offered to reconnect Flint to its system, but the city government continued to insist the water was safe. This promise was repeated in March.

Then in September 2015, a group of doctors announced the results of tests confirming that the proportion of Flint children with high blood levels had doubled since 2014. Even then – and even as other contaminants kept being found in the water – the state kept claiming the water was safe.

On September 29, Michigan governor Rick Snyder finally admitted that lead levels in Flint's water were high. On October 8, he announced plans to reconnect Flint to the Detroit water system.

But the health damage had already been done.

Will those responsible face justice?

In November, Flint voters tossed out mayor Dayne Walling over his handling of the water issue, replacing him with Karen Weaver. Shortly thereafter, Weaver declared a municipal state of emergency over an epidemic of lead poisoning in children.

"The City of Flint has experienced a man-made disaster," she said.

Two weeks later, the director of the state's Department of Environmental Quality resigned. Then a week after that, Gov. Snyder declared a Michigan state of emergency in Flint.

A week and a half later, on January 16, president Obama declared Flint the site of a federal state of emergency, and ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security to begin relief efforts.

Prosecutors from the state of Michigan and the federal government are investigating whether any crimes were committed surrounding the switch in water supply and the ongoing insistence that the water was safe. The Michigan department of health is also investigating whether a surge in cases of Legionnaire's disease around Flint is related to the new water supply.

Finally, a class action lawsuit has been filed on behalf of "tens of thousands" of Flint residents who incurred health damage and financial costs (including the need to purchase gallons of bottled water per week), as a result of the city and state's mishandling of the situation. The lawsuit alleges that the city's switch to poisoned water deprived them of their civil rights simply to save the government money.

"For more than 18 months, state and local government officials ignored irrefutable evidence that the water pumped from the Flint River exposed [residents] to extreme toxicity," the lawsuit reads. "The deliberately false denials about the safety of the Flint River water was as deadly as it was arrogant."

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