Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.
Lead-poisoned water in Flint, Michigan, may have led to a significant drop in the number of babies born in the town, according a newly released study. Researchers found that after elected leaders decided to save money by switching the city’s water supply source in 2014, the area saw a precipitous rise in miscarriages and stillbirths, as well as infants born with “health complications.” The new report was undertaken to underscore the urgent necessity of a registry to trace health effects of the contaminated water and establish precisely how many residents were exposed.
Study co-authors Daniel Grossman of West Virginia University and David Slusky of the University of Kansas estimate that fetal deaths—that is, “pregnancies lasting more than 20 weeks that do not result in a live birth”—dropped by a “horrifyingly large” rate of 58 percent. (Abortions were not counted among the tally.) The number of live births fell by 12 percent.
Grossman and Slusky note that, among babies conceived from November 2013 through March 2015, “between 198 and 276 more children would have been born had Flint not enacted the switch in water.” There was no comparative fertility drop-off in the Michigan cities of Dearborn, Detroit, Grand Rapids and Lansing, places that “followed similar trends in fertility and birth outcomes over this time period…with the exception of the change in water supply.”
Grossman and Slusky also point to recent studies that “have linked maternal lead exposure to fetal death, prenatal growth abnormalities, reduced gestational period, and reduced birth weight, while historically lead is associated with increased fetal death and infant mortality rates.”
In April, the Michigan Civil Rights Commission released a paper concluding that “the underlying issue [of the water crisis] is historical and systemic, and dates back nearly a century, and has at its foundation race and segregation of the Flint community.” The city’s population is 53 percent African American, and 45 percent of residents live below the federal poverty line, according to the Washington Post.
“It’s a tragic but unintentionally well-set-up natural experiment,” Slusky told the Huffington Post.
For many children and families in Flint, the water crisis is an enduring health nightmare. Per the Washington Post, at the end of last year, “10 percent of Flint homes still had lead concentrations of 12 parts per billion or higher in their water, three times the level observed in Detroit. Although the EPA threshold for safe drinking water is 15 parts of lead per billion, according to the World Health Organization ‘there is no known level of lead exposure that is considered safe.’”
Kali Holloway is a senior writer and the associate editor of media and culture at AlterNet.