Flint, Mich. residents traveled to Washington D.C. to discuss their experiences dealing with their city’s water crisis.
The Flint residents assembled Tuesday at the Metropolitan AME Church with a panel of notable African-American leaders including Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings and Michigan Congressman John Conyers.
The panel also included Black Psychiatrists of America CEO, Dr. Patricia Newman; Association of Black Psychologists President, Dr. Mwata Kevin Washington; health and environmentalist justice advocate, Dr. Jewel Crawford; and human rights reparations advocate, Adjoa Aiyetoro.
The former president of the National Association of Black Social Workers, Leonard Dunston, organized the town hall meeting, “We Charge Genocide: Black Leaders Discuss Flint and Poisoning of Black Communities.”
“The goal of the gathering is to shine a spotlight on the continuing crisis in Flint and draw attention to what the organizers believe is a disturbing pattern of lead poison in the water systems of predominately Black neighborhoods and cities across the country,” said organizers in a statement.
Flint has been the focal point of the nation’s discussion concerning lead poisoning. In April 2005, the city’s water became contaminated with lead when city officials its water source from the Detroit Water and Sewage Department to the Flint River and failed to treat the newly sourced water with corrosion inhibitors.
Lead from aging pipes leached into the water supply, causing elevated levels of the metal in drinking water and creating serious public danger. In January, the city declared a state of emergency and soon after President Barack Obama declared it as a federal emergency.
The majority African-American city has been advised until further notice by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to only consume filtered and bottled waters for daily activities such as drinking, cooking, as the lead contamination has made these activities hazardous without filtered water.
According to a provisional May 2016 report released by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on the blood lead levels of children in Michigan showed that more children in the generally affluent Oakland County had above-average levels of lead in their blood than in Flint. The data used looks at general lead exposure from a broad range of contact with the metal.
The report which uses 2015 data suggests the lead problem is worse in Detroit, where 1,618 children had unacceptable lead levels. In Genesee County, where Flint is located, 159 children had elevated blood lead levels. In Oakland County 206 children had elevated lead levels.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates that nearly half a million U.S. children have elevated blood lead levels that could possibly cause irreversible brain damage and other health problems.
Statewide, almost 5,000 children tested in Michigan in 2015 had an elevated lead blood levels.
Dr. Michelle Faber, a pediatrician at Southfield Pediatrics in Oakland County encouraged all parents to look for information regarding lead poisoning.
“I do not think people are educated enough [about lead poisoning]. It’s always important to be educated about a health issue, no matter what the issue is,” Faber said.
Faber explained that most of her patients between 9 and 18 months go through lead testing and most do not have levels of concern. Faber’s patient pool draws mostly what she called the “tri-county” area, and while not many patients have tested with lethal levels, parents are concerned.
“Since the Flint incident, we have had a lot of parents bringing in their children because they were concerned.
Though more children in Oakland County had elevated blood lead levels, the numbers accounted for a smaller proportion of those children tested. In Oakland County, those 206 children who had unacceptable lead levels only accounted for 1.4 percent of all children in the area who were tested.
However, in Genesee County, those children who tested with above-average lead levels accounted for 2.3 percent of children in the county, and in Detroit 7.5 percent of those children tested had unacceptable lead levels.
Dr. Faber was not concerned about the numbers in the report, “1.4 percent [in Oakland County] seems like a pretty low number to me, a good number.”
“We charge genocide because we are seeing the devastating toll on human life and destructive damage to Flint and Black communities across this country,” said Dunston.
“Whether through blatant or benign neglect, what’s happening to Black families and communities is unconscionable and should be considered a crime against humanity. The town hall meeting is the first step in bringing this crime to the attention of the nation and the world.”
Parts of Newark, New Jersey, the District and New York have also had problems with lead poisoning in their water.