Glass Half FullIn the past few months, we’ve learned that thousands of children and their families have been poisoned by drinking the tap water in Flint, Michigan. The magnitude of this atrocity is difficult to understand without placing it within a larger pattern of neglect and disregard that residents of Flint have endured for decades. Flint, a once thriving industrial powerhouse and original home of General Motors, now counts 40 percent of its residents and 52 percent of its children as poor. This predominantly African American city is not only plagued by crushing, generational poverty, but also by a crime rate that places it among the nation’s most dangerous cities. The list of un-redressed daily hurdles for Flint’s residents includes high unemployment resulting from the loss of auto manufacturing jobs that have gone south or overseas; environmental pollution in the air and water caused by years of poorly regulated industrialization; a steeply declining tax base; and a scarcity of chain grocery stores to such a degree that Flint is considered a food desert. Beginning in 2014, yet another calamity, perhaps the biggest yet, befell the children and families of Flint; lead-poisoned drinking water.

Lead is one of the most dangerous neurotoxins. When someone is exposed to lead, it is distributed to the brain, liver, kidney and bones where it accumulates over time, potentially causing irreversible damage to every organ system in the body. Lead is harmful to adults, but even more toxic for young children who are particularly vulnerable to its destructive impact on their developing brain and nervous system. The list of known and potential dangers of lead poisoning in children is profound: reduced brain development leading to lower intelligence quotient (IQ); behavioral changes including reduced attention span, antisocial, violent and impulsive behavior that has been linked to juvenile delinquency and crime; anemia; hearing impairment; hypertension; kidney damage; reduced body growth; headaches; irritability; muscle weakness and seizures. Studies show that children with elevated lead levels are more likely to be unemployed, dependent on government services, and/or end up in prison. In pregnant women, lead has been linked to miscarriages and spontaneous abortions.

For over a year and one-half, Flint residents, including approximately 9,000 children under the age of 6, drank, and indeed were encouraged to drink, lead poisoned tap water. The tap water in Flint continues to contain high levels of lead as a result of lead leeching from lead service lines in the homes of the majority of Flint residents. As a result, Flint’s youngest children face increased risks of short and long-term health and educational consequences. According to experts, if there ever was a time to invest in the future care of Flint’s children, the time is more critical now than ever before. They recommend that we anticipate tomorrow’s problems by significantly expanding comprehensive health care services, early childhood programs, including Head Start, home visiting, child care and preschool, screening and detection services, improved special education services and educational support services for children and their parents. And, they recommend making the water safe for all residents and children to drink.

Yesterday, the House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing to ferret out who bears responsibility for the catastrophic damage lead poisoned water is causing Flint. By every account, the hearing highlighted the utter disregard that some local, state and federal officials had for the well being of Flint’s residents, including its children. Plenty of officials who were entrusted to protect Flint were too concerned with saving money than safeguarding the safety of the water supply and the children and families of Flint. There is no doubt that those who failed the residents, children and families of Flint should be held accountable for their misdeeds. But there are more urgent concerns. What must come first are tangible solutions to help the people of Flint, most of all the children, who are at risk of suffering the most harmful effects of lead poisoning. There are two critical questions that Congress needs to immediately address:

  • What can be done now to help the children of Flint to ensure that we mitigate the dangers they face as a result of being poisoned by lead?
  • How can we ensure that Flint’s drinking water is safe?

Congress has the opportunity to answer these questions with action, starting with adopting an amendment which was introduced by Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) and Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) to the bipartisan-supported Energy Policy Modernization Act (S. 2012). The amendment would provide $600 million in a federal emergency supplemental appropriation to Flint, with $200 million dedicated to address public health needs of children and other residents impacted by the lead poisoned water, and $400 million to address emergency infrastructure to help replace or fix lead-contaminated water pipes in Flint so that tap water is safe to drink. As of last night, negotiations on the emergency funding had stalled.

The fate of Flint’s children and families is in the hands of Congress. Rep. Cummings summed it up best when he said “This is a moral issue. Our children are the living messages we send to a future we will never see. . . . Will we rob them of their dreams? For the sake of the children and families of Flint, we urge Congress to immediate action to protect and heal the children of Flint.

Beyond blame: Congress must take action to heal Flint’s children and families >> v/ @Campign4Kids #InvestInKids
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