Let’s go back to April 2014. In 2014, the economy was just starting to recover, but wasn’t solid by any means. Everyone knows that Detroit, MI was hit especially hard by the recession and became an extremely impoverished city. So what does this have to do with Flint, MI? Flint, prior to April 2014, relied on Detroit’s water supply. In an attempt to save Detroit money, Flint’s water supply was instead drawn from the Flint River.

Flint has risen to national attention because the government ignored the dangers of the Flint river water supply. Michigan governor Rick Snyder even recognized his own mistake. In fact, email records show that Gov. Snyder knew about the dangerous water a year ago.


Photo by Ken Lund

By September 2014, reports started rolling in about the water tasting, smelling and looking funky. People were also reporting the water was giving them rashes and making them ill. The initial cause was labeled bacteria. By March 2015, some homes were testing 26 times the EPA’s allowed parts per billion of lead. By September of 2015, numerous children tested positive for lead poisoning. Flint finally declared a state of emergency in mid-December.

What’s lead poisoning?


Photo by Andrew Jameson

Technically, it’s a build-up of lead in the body. It used to be more common when paint contained lead. Generally it causes tingling extremities, cramps, joint and muscle pain – basically your body telling you “I can’t digest this.” More severely, it causes memory loss and a decline in mental function. For children diagnosed with lead poisoning, they can expect the rest of their lives to be impacted. Lead poisoning slows down cognitive development.

With schools literally using this dirty water, the effects aren’t temporary. The Flint School System will see this impact on the children for years to come. Snyder has stated that his top priority is getting the children of Flint clean water, despite many already being poisoned.

So how does something so dangerous get into the water? The short answer is “old stuff.” Lead wasn’t always such a big deal because no one knew it was bad. You could find it in paint and pipes. The older your home, the more likely you are to be exposed.

When they started filtering the water off the Flint River, they were dealing with years and years of this build up from the old pipes. The EPA has set many regulations monitoring lead in water and the pipes that drinking water flows through. Unfortunately for Flint, their government didn’t care. Flint refused to obey standards set by the EPA and ignored the warnings of State Representatives when they pumped in their water. They’re still pumping it through these pipes, too.

Obama declared Flint in a federal emergency on January 16. Since then, Snyder has pleaded to be upgraded to a federal disaster to allow for more funding. The catch? Federal disasters are only natural disasters. And make no mistake, this poor decision was not natural.

What this means for your water supply


Photo courtesy of banthebottle.net

Flint isn’t the only American city suffering from lead poisoned water supplies, though. Nine counties nationwide reported 10 percent of tests coming back positive for lead poisoning, which is over double Flint’s rates. My home state, Indiana, has 92 counties, so nine seems like such a small number. But only half of the counties in America report lead poisoning data to the CDC. There are 12 states who don’t even report data to the CDC. Is your state one of them?

So what else should you be aware of in your drinking water? I promise you, there is fluoride in your drinking water. That stuff that’s good for your teeth was intentionally introduced into water supplies as a form of mass medication. Aside from how terrifying that sounds, it was done because someone thought it would help stop cavities. While it hasn’t caused any “detectable cancer,” (wait, there’s cancer types that can’t be detected?) it has been found to cause cancer in small mammals.

If you’re out there crying “I’m not a small mammal!” sit down and realize that our modification of water supplies impacts more than just ourselves. Your pet cat is a small mammal. While fluoride does protect teeth, you get fluoride from toothpaste and your 6-month cleanings at the dentist.

You may also find yourself drinking part of your favorite face wash. You might have also heard microbeads have not been banned. Microbeads are those plastic little bits found in face wash and toothpaste that scrub and supposedly cleanse better. The only problem with them is that they’re too small to filter out of the water, which means it ends up in drinking water and aquatic habitats. Thanks to legislation, they’re no longer allowed in products. No worries, you’ll just have to switch to something that dissolves like salt or sugar.

How you can help

Flint has received $80 million from the Obama Administration alongside an outpouring of support from across the nation. The $80 million came with a stern list of requirements for posting water test results. Everyone from Mark Wahlberg to Jimmy Fallon has donated bottled water or money. If you would like to donate, the Red Cross is always safe.

Hopefully we can figure out how to remove the trillions already in the waterways, as well as every other pollutant. Water is a natural resource, but it’s only renewable when we use it properly. There are many ways you can contribute to cleaning up water at home and around the globe. Check out these seven water organizations to find out how to get involved.