Flint, MI: Lead contamination in Flint, MI, has become the subject of a criminal investigation, which according to a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit, now involves the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal prosecutors, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Inspector General and the EPA's Criminal Investigation Division.
The lead crisis in Flint is believed to affect as many as 8,000 children under the age of six, who were exposed to unsafe levels of lead as a result of a budget-cutting measure that involved switching the city' drinking water sources.
Flint is located about 60 miles (100 km) northwest of Detroit. It was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager when it switched the source of its tap water from Detroit's system to the Flint River in April 2014. However, tests done after the switch revealed that high levels of lead were found in blood samples taken from children in the area. The more corrosive water from the river leached more lead from the city pipes than Detroit water did. Consequently, Flint switched back to its original source last October.
Lead is a toxic agent that can damage the nervous system, and even small amounts can cause serious health problems. Children under the age of 6 are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning, which can severely affect mental and physical development. In children symptoms include developmental delay, learning difficulties, irritability, loss of appetite, weight loss, sluggishness and fatigue, abdominal pain, vomiting, constipation, and hearing loss. Lead poisoning occurs when lead builds up in the body, often over a period of months or years. At very high levels, lead poisoning can be fatal.
According to a report in the New York Times, "unsafe levels of lead have turned up in tap water in city after city in the US, including Durham and Greenville, N.C., in 2006; in Columbia, S.C., in 2005; and last July in Jackson, Miss., where officials waited six months to disclose the contamination, as well as in scores of other places in recent years."
Some 18 cities in Pennsylvania were found to have even higher lead levels than Flint, according to a 2014 study by the Pennsylvania Department of Health. The lead exposure rate in Flint, Michigan is 3.21 percent.