Water Quality and Public Health in Flint and the Bay Area

by Erica Munson

Think about how often you take a shower, wash your hands or simply consume water. We oftentimes take our access to water for granted and seldom think about the mechanics behind getting the water from its source to our everyday routine. It is very common to adopt a blind trust when it comes to consuming the water provided for us. Now think about what would happen if you did all the usual aforementioned tasks (taking a shower, washing your hands, etc.), but, unknowingly, you did them using contaminated water.

Lead exposure can have many negative effects on the cognition and behavior of children through their central nervous system. This fact has been known for centuries and while public health efforts have greatly decreased exposure, these efforts, unfortunately, were unable to save Flint, Michigan from catastrophe. Historically, Flint has always struggled economically as studies show that four out of ten families are currently living below the poverty line. As a method to cut spending, officials decided to change their water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River. However, the officials were oblivious to the fact that the Flint River is nearly twenty times more corrosive than Lake Huron, allowing it to be more able to dissolve materials such as lead. Eighteen months passed before the city took action to fix the problem. However, the damage was already done. Now, the city not only has to pay millions in repair costs, but it also has to deal with the potential neural disabilities caused by lead exposure, especially in children.

Locally, it is very unlikely that we will ever have to face the same issue. Dr. Charlotte Smith, a lecturer and water quality expert at UC Berkeley, informed us that, “we don’t have the same problem here as the root cause of the problem in Flint.” Courtesy of the East Municipal Utility District’s program in the 1980s, our local area’s lead service lines have been removed. While this realization certainly warrants a sigh of relief, water quality still remains a serious topic of consideration. Dr. Smith references the Annual Water Quality Report from the East Bay Municipal Utility District as a good source for individuals seeking more information about our local water supply.

Alongside water quality, it is important to be aware of all aspects of public health in our community. Dr. Smith states that, “because lead in water isn’t an issue for this area, that doesn’t mean there aren’t issues related to lead. In fact, lead in paint chips is still a significant route of exposure in this area.” While Berkeley and surrounding communities will not have to face lead exposure through water, it is still possible that the same issue could arise via paint chips. Our communities need to make themselves aware of all aspects of public health issues so that an unexpected disaster, such as the water crisis in Flint, does not repeat itself.



Work Cited

Bellinger, David C. “Lead Contamination in Flint – An Abject Failure to Protect Public Health — NEJM.” New England Journal of Medicine. N.p., 10 Feb. 2016. Web. 21 Feb. 2016.