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August 4, 2017

What Flint schools are doing to protect children from lead

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  • When the city of Flint, Michigan began using the Flint River as a water source to save money three years ago, the water flowing through the aging pipes caused lead, a neurotoxin that affects brain development, to leach into the water supply.
  • After scientific studies proved that lead contamination was present in the water supply, residents were instructed to use only bottled water for drinking, cooking, cleaning and bathing. However, by that point, exposure had been damaging. 
  • Lead is especially dangerous to young children, having the potential to impair brain development and cause behavioral changes.
  • Flint’s school superintendent, Bilal Tawwab, took action to protect children from exposure without interrupting their educations. The school district was already facing declining enrollment, financial problems and falling test scores. 
  • Flint schools now provide students with meditation classes to help with anxiety, swivel chairs for fidgety kids, hand wipes for kids who can’t bathe at home, bottled water and free breakfast. Children with lead exposure tend to have learning disabilities, developmental delays, and behavioral and emotional challenges.
  • During Tawwab’s tenure, the graduation rate has improved, though it’s still below the national average. Test scores have gone up slightly. Enrollment is up, and there are plans to open new schools. But most of the city is still without drinkable water, health officials are facing criminal charges, and it’s unclear how long government aid will last.

  1. Essential question: How is the Flint water crisis a failure of the government to protect public health?
  2. How was lead introduced to the water supply? Explain the chain of events.
  3. What extra steps must Flint residents take in cooking, cleaning and drinking to keep themselves safe? How dramatically has the water crisis affected everyday life in Flint?
  4. What neurological problems are symptoms of lead poisoning? How do these affect children’s abilities to learn?

Key Terms:

neurotoxin: toxins that are destructive to nerve tissue; adversely affect function particularly in developing nervous tissue

Extension activity:

Read PBS NewsHour’s ‘Study confirms how lead got into Flint’s water’ for information about the Environmental Protection Agency’s involvement in the Flint water crisis.

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