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Infowire: If you live in Flint, here's what you need to know about the water crisis

Oct 16, 2015

Credit Jeff Turner / Flickr Creative Commons

Infowire fills the information gap and meets the news needs of families struggling to make ends meet. Get all Infowire alerts by texting INFOWIRE to 734-954-4539 or email infowire@michiganradio.org

This post has been updated.

It looks like Flint is getting the money it needs (almost $10 million) to help the city switch back to Detroit water. The funds will also be used to provide free water filters, water testing, and help for children who have been exposed to lead.

But for many people living in Flint - especially kids who have already been exposed to harmful levels of lead in the water - the damage has already been done.

Lead, a toxic metal that's harmful if swallowed or inhaled, can enter a household's water supply through corrosion of pipes, solder, fixtures and faucets, or fittings - which is exactly what's been happening in Flint.

Here's what Flint residents need to know:

 You can get your water tested – for free

Testing is the only way to confirm if there is lead in your water. Flint residents can get their water tested for free by calling the Flint Water Plant at (810) 787-6537 (then press 1). You can also e-mail them at flintwater@cityofflint.com to request testing. 

Here’s what the water testing process is like for people living in Flint:

The Flint Water Plant will provide a bottle to anyone who requests it.

They advise turning on the faucet that’s most commonly used for drinking for 5 minutes.* The water must be cold, not hot. Turn off the faucet after 5 minutes, then wait a minimum of 6 hours (no more than 12).

Once that time period has passed, you fill up the test bottle and drop it back off at the water plant.

For people who aren’t able to leave their homes, the Flint Water Plant will drop off the testing bottle and arrange to pick it back up after the test is completed.

Once the plant has the bottle, they ship it off to a Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) lab in Lansing for testing. The turnaround time for this is about 10-12 days.

The results will be sent back to the Flint Water Plant, where the utility administrator reviews them.

If there’s a problem with the results, the utilities administrator will contact that person or business personally to do additional testing. 

I had a chance to speak with the utilities administrator at Flint – his name is Mike Glasgow.

Glasgow says about 5-10% of the tests he's processed so far have come back with levels that are too high.

He says they’ve definitely noticed a spike in the number of test requests since the water crisis first began.

They’ve received between 200-250 samples in the last three weeks alone. Prior to the crisis, they were processing about 100 samples every six months.

Glasgow says about 5-10% of the tests he’s processed so far have come back with levels that are too high.

Glasgow says, unfortunately, these high test results are spread throughout the city. So far, they're not able to predict where the hot spots are.

What can I do to protect myself and my kids?

  • Get a NSF-certified water filter. If you live in zip codes 48501-48507, you're eligible for a free water filter. They're available for pick up at four different locations in Flint. You'll need to bring a valid photo ID and proof of residency to get the filter. Also - only one filter per household is provided. 

    DHHS clients are encouraged to pick up their filters at DHHS locations: 
    125 E. Union Street Flint, MI 48501
    4809 Clio Rd, Flint MI 48504

    Genesee County Community Action Resource Department locations:
    601 N. Saginaw Street, Suite A Flint MI 48502
    2727 Lippincott boulevard, Flint MI 48507
     

  • Make sure water filters are NSF-certified. The filter package should specifically list the device as certified for removing the contaminant lead. You can find a list of NSF water filters (that includes make and model) that are approved to filter lead here: http://www.gchd.us/docs/lead_filter_information.pdf
  • Experts recommend serving meals that are low in fat and high in calcium and iron, which can help block the storage of lead in the body
  • Use only cold water for drinking and cooking
  • Boiling the water will not remove lead
  • Run the water at each tap before use
  • Remove and clean faucet aerators, which can be found at a local hardware store
  • The Genesee County Health Department says bathing and showering in the water “should be safe” for kids, even if it’s above the EPA’s action level. However, in a previous interview with Michigan Radio’s Sarah Hulett, one Flint mom discovered her son’s elevated lead levels only after he developed a rash every time he took a bath. One she took him to his doctor, they determined the rash was likely a result of elevated lead levels. 

Lead can also be found in the air, soil, dust, and in some foods.

There's been a big focus on Flint's water supply lately, and for good reason. But kids living in Flint can also be exposed to lead through paint and dust - especially if they live in older homes. For more on how to test the rest of your home for lead, check out this article by my colleague Mark Brush.

How do I know if my kids have been overexposed to lead?

Children at risk of exposure to lead should definitely be tested, according to Stuart Batterman, a professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health. Children under the age of six are at the greatest risk, and he says, bottom line, testing is the only way to find out if a child has elevated lead levels.

Batterman says that one of the problems with lead exposure is that it’s insidious - poisoning can be hard to detect. Symptoms don't typically show up until dangerous amounts have been already accumulated in the body.

Here are some of the signs to watch out for in kids that may be related to lead poisoning:  

  • developmental delay or learning difficulties 
  • unusual irritability or hyperactivity
  • loss of appetite, sometimes resulting in weight loss
  • feeling more tired than usual, fatigue
  • stomach issues like vomiting, constipation, and abdominal pain
  • hearing loss
  • anemia

Batterman says that kids who have a poor diet, specifically one lacking in calcium and iron, are more susceptible to the impact of lead. Kids who live in homes built in 1978 or before are also at an added risk of lead exposure through paint, dust, and soil.

Adults who have been overexposed to lead should be on the lookout for the following:

  • high blood pressure
  • stomach pain, constipation
  • muscle or joint pain
  • pain, numbness, or tingling in fingers or toes
  • headaches
  • trouble sleeping

Lead poisoning may also lead to memory loss, mood disorders, declines in mental functioning, and fertility issues for both men and women. 

How do I test myself or my kids for elevated lead levels?

A blood test is the easiest way to test someone’s blood levels, which can be done through a pediatrician’s office. Lead testing should be covered under most insurance plans - you can contact your individual provider to find out. Testing is covered for kids on Medicaid. Batterman says testing should be available for free.

Hopefully, under the agreement reached by the state, it will be.

Resources
We will continue to update this post as more news and resources become available. In the meantime, here’s some resources that might be helpful for people living in Flint:

Genesee County Health Department: 810-257-3612 

EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline: 1-800-426-4791

National Lead Information Center: 1-800-424-LEAD

If you know of any additional resources, information, or help available for Flint residents, let us know below or at brittany@michiganradio.org

*Flint's guidance that residents flush their taps for five minutes before letting the water stand in the pipes for six hours is a matter of controversy, with critics claiming that it has the effect of skewing lead levels downward. Officials from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality say the pre-flush is a suggestion, not a requirement, and is intended to ensure against samples being taken from rarely used, stagnant faucets. EPA guidance does not include a pre-flush.