Lead contamination still wreaking havoc in Flint, Michigan where fetal death rates are up

It has been more than three years since Flint, Michigan drew water from the Flint River for its residents in an attempt to save money. Today, the crisis in Flint continues to harm those who have been exposed to contaminated water.

A study from the University of Kansas (KU) and the University of West Virginia (WVU) suggests that fetal death rates increased by 58 percent, while fertility rates in Flint women decreased by 12 percent because of the water crisis in Flint, according to a Science Daily report.

The researchers compared the fertility rates in Flint to the fertility rates in 15 other big cities in Michigan between 2008 and 2015. They also compared data on sexual activity and birth rates before and after the Flint water crisis to come up with a “general fertility rate.”

The researchers may have anticipated a decrease in birth rates, given the well-documented effects of lead exposure on fertility, but the difference was a bit larger than they expected, according to a Daily Mail report.

If the fertility were the same as it had been in the previous years, they would have expected about the same number of documented fetal deaths because reported sexual activity in Flint did not decrease that time.

“This can only explain a small fraction of the overall change in fertility rates and we speculate that much of the results we find are likely due to an increase in miscarriages in Flint,” says Daniel Grossman, as assistant professor of economics at WVU. “It is important to quantify the size of these fertility changes to understand the full cost of the water change on the residents of Flint,” says Grossman.

Moreover, data show the overall health at birth of the children in Flint decreased as well when compared with children from other Michigan cities. The overall finding of the study indicates that approximately 275 fewer children were born in Flint than expected if the city did not change its water source. “The results suggest that either Flint residents were less likely to conceive children or women were having more miscarriages during this time period,” Grossman says.

Flint has faced a major public health emergency due to lead poisoning since it switched its public water source to the Flint River in April 2014. As soon as the water switch happened, the residents started to complain about the odor, taste, and appearance of the water. They even raised health concerns and reported rashes, hair loss, and other problems. The lead levels in the blood of children who drank the contaminated water extremely increased. (Related: Flint, MI, water is now causing rashes and hair loss across the city)

No public warning in the state was issued until early 2016. As a result, a number of Michigan officials now face criminal charges ranging from involuntary manslaughter to misconduct in office to obstruction of justice.

The researchers also did not find evidence of avoidance behavior. They looked at Google Trends data and saw no increase in online searches by Flint residents related to “lead” and “lead poisoning,” which would indicate concern about the effects of lead in the water.

Grossman said that if the residents were worried about lead in the water, it could influence their behavior related to deciding to have children. He also said that they did not see an increase in such searches about lead poisoning until research on lead in Flint began coming out in September 2015.

“During the period in which water was sourced from the Flint River (beginning on April 25, 2014), local and state officials continually reassured residents that the water was safe. Officials did not issue a lead advisory until September 2015, just a few weeks before switching off Flint River water for good,” the report says.

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