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January 21, 2016

Poison water in Flint affects everyone’s health—especially kids

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Essential question

What is the government’s responsibility when it comes to providing safe drinking water?


A man-made water crisis in Flint, Michigan began five years ago when the city government decided to switch water sources in an effort to save money.

As a result, Flint residents unwittingly drank water contaminated with dangerous levels of lead, a known neurotoxin, for the past 18 months.

The negative effects of lead poisoning for children include developmental delays, irritability, aggression and learning problems. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, director of Pediatric Residency at Hurley Medical Center in Flint, first discovered last September that lead levels in the blood of Flint’s children were double — in some instances triple —normal levels.

Along with other doctors, residents and local leaders, Hanna-Attisha, tried to warn government officials last year, but their findings were initially dismissed.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency for Flint in early January of this year, but some residents are now calling for his resignation. The community says it will not allow the health crisis to define their city.


Key terms

lead poisoning — acute or chronic poisoning due to the absorption of lead into the body

neurotoxin — a poison that acts on the nervous system, causing adverse effects on developing and mature tissue including the brain

Warm up questions (before watching the video)
  1. Whose responsibility is it to ensure healthy living conditions (i.e. clean drinking water) for the public?
  2. What types of sources do cities and towns typically use for drinking water?
  3. How would you know if your water was not safe?
Critical thinking questions (after watching the video)
  1. Why was the state and local government’s response to the increased levels of lead in Flint’s water so delayed?
  2. Who is to blame for allowing this crisis to reach this point? How should they be held responsible?
  3. Given the known effects of lead poisoning on children, what additional issues can Flint most likely expect to see in the coming years?
  4. Lawrence Reynold’s said he thinks the response to the crisis would have been very different if it had happened in places with different racial and economic demographics than Flint? Do you agree? If so, how do you think the situation would have differed?
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