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Flint, Michigan water scandal illustrates the need for more citizen scientists

Citizen science

(NaturalNews) In an age of government corruption and regulatory abuse, citizen scientists are now more urgently needed than ever before. This is perhaps no more true than in Flint, Michigan, where activists conducted independent research that discovered lead levels in children had doubled since the city switched its water supply. The story of Flint is an illustration of the failure of government at all levels.

In August 2015, an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) contractor accidentally broke a dam, which flooded the Animas River with a slew of toxic chemicals. Lead, arsenic, cadmium and other contaminants caused the water to turn a mustard orange color. In an effort to keep the incident under wraps, the EPA tried to silence landowners from speaking out about what was happening to the land and river.

It was just a few months later, that the EPA participated in a massive cover-up of lead poisoning of the water supply in Flint, Michigan. In order to save the city around $7 million, city officials decided Flint would temporarily switch from Huron to the Flint River to draw water.

EPA involved in mass Flint, Michigan, cover up

It is now known that the EPA knew the city of Flint switched to this new, contaminated source of water, but did not notify the public. They allowed citizens, and in particular, children, to drink the lead-contaminated water for months without saying a word. Instead of protecting the public from toxic chemicals, the EPA literally fed the citizens of Flint a steady stream of lead-contaminated water.

Although the EPA warned city officials about the toxic river, they did not disclose this information to the public for months. The city's drinking water first become contaminated with lead in April 2014, under the leadership of a state-appointed emergency manager. The state Department of Environmental Quality has admitted that they did not ensure that necessary chemicals were added to the Flint River water. As a result, lead leached from the pipes and into the public's drinking water.

"The Michigan department of environmental quality (MDEQ) incorrectly advised the city of Flint that corrosion control treatment was not necessary, resulting in leaching of lead into the city's drinking water," Joel Beauvais, acting deputy assistant administrator of the EPA's office of water, told the Guardian.

"EPA regional staff urged MDEQ to address the lack of corrosion control, but was met with resistance. The delays in implementing the actions needed to treat the drinking water and in informing the public of ongoing health risks raise very serious concerns," he added.

Thousands of children exposed to lead contaminated water

Anyone who drank the city's tap water was exposed to lead. Children under the age of six are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning, which can cause irreversible brain damage. It's been linked to lower intelligence and behavioral problems.

Both the EPA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) acknowledge that there are no safe levels of lead. According to Eden Wells, Michigan's chief medical executive, all children who have consumed the city's tap water since April 2014 have been exposed to lead. That's 8,657 children, according to Census data. This estimate doesn't include pregnant women who drank the city's water at the time.

The state downplayed the severity of the disaster, disregarding complaints about the smell, color and taste of the drinking water. According to Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech professor who had been testing Flint water, treatment of the water could have been corrected early on for only $100 a day, but city officials failed to take action. Even after tests in February 2015 demonstrated hazardous levels of lead in a Flint home, city officials continued to claim that there was no real threat.

Citizen scientist exposes Flint, Michigan, lead problem

If activists didn't take water testing into their own hands, the public might still be unaware of the lead contaminated water in Flint, Michigan. In particular, when Mona Hanna-Attisha MD, director of Hurley's Pediatric Residency Program, heard the city was undergoing "corrosion control" to stop lead in aging pipes from leaching into the water supply, she took matters into her own hands.

The doctor-turned-campaigner decided to see if lead in the water was getting into the bodies of children. Hospitals routinely screen children at ages 1 and 2, when they are most vulnerable to lead exposure. Hanna-Attisha compared the lead levels in samples taken before and after the city switched the water supply. It was "the easiest research project I've ever done," she told sources.

Hanna-Attisha discovered that the percent of lead levels in Flint children had doubled. "In some neighborhoods, it actually tripled. (In) one specific neighborhood, the percentage of kids with lead poisoning went from about 5%, to almost 16% of the kids that were tested," she said.

Her results went against mainstream science, which showed that lead levels were on the decline throughout the country. She was labeled as an "unfortunate researcher," and accused of provoking mass hysteria. Critics insisted that her research did not match state figures.

It wasn't until January 5th that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder declared a state emergency. On January 12th, the National Guard was appointed to help distribute bottled water and water filters. The state helped Flint go back to Detroit water in October, but the damage the Flint River water had already done to the city's water distribution center persists. President Obama did not declare a federal state of emergency in Flint until January 16th, 2016.

The need for more citizen scientists

Hanna-Attisha is a stunning testimony to the need for citizen scientists. Although she is a licensed medical professional, her work comparing lead levels in children could have been performed and replicated by any run of the mill citizen with some scientific know-how. Without the work of citizen scientists like Hanna-Attisha, the city of Flint could still be in the dark about their lead problem.

Lead poisoning isn't a problem limited to Flint, Michigan either. The United States' infrastructure is leaching toxic heavy metals into city tap water everywhere. Since the EPA can no longer be trusted, Mike Adams and a former NASA contract scientist are conducting a nationwide scientific analysis of heavy metals in the tap water of U.S. cities. They are calling on health professionals throughout the country to send water samples to their lab, to be tested via ICP-MS using an Agilent 7700x instrument and EPA methodology 200.8.

To learn more about how you can do your part as a citizen scientist, visit EPAWatch.org.

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