By Emma Campbell
Elm Staff Writer
Five years ago, the urban community of Flint, Michigan fell into a state of emergency as when the government decided to draw its public water supply from the lead-contaminated Flint River, reported by The Washington Post. The measure was meant to save money while the city made headway on a pipeline project to Lake Huron. Residents of Flint were immediately affected by the quality of the water pumping through their plumbing system, questioning its odor and yellow-brown hue.
Flint government officials received these complaints and did nothing. This apathy would later result in the deaths of 12 people and between 6,000 and 12,000 children’s exposure to lead.
In case you are not familiar with the detrimental effects caused by lead exposure, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention summarized the dangers in a report titled “Low Level Lead Exposure Harms Children: A Renewed Call for Primary Prevention.” The report states that once lead infiltrates a person’s blood system, the damages are irreversible. Therefore, “public health, environmental and housing policies should encourage prevention of all exposure to lead.”
Flint’s main concern used to be the contaminated water streaming from home faucets. Now, the city’s lead crisis has migrated from household concerns to educational concerns.
A lawsuit filed against Michigan forced the state to shell out $3 million for the Neurodevelopmental Center of Excellence, which was established to screen students in the Flint school system for disorders that may require special accommodations. Roughly 70% of the students evaluated were found to have issues like A.D.H.D, dyslexia, or other forms of intellectual impairment, reports The New York Times.
Even before being exposed to lead, Flint’s education system was lacking in funding and resources. Now, as a result of Flint’s contaminated water supply, nearly 30,000 children are suffering from a neurotoxin known to have devastating effects on their behavior and cognitive development.
While Flint’s children require the same quality education that every other child in America is deserving of, they also require immediate medical attention and behavioral accommodations. These fundamentals demand money that does not exist. Michigan policy limits the revenue of local bureaucracies like Flint’s by reducing the amount of funds the state can share with city governments. Therefore, Flint is relying on private money to amend the water crisis, of which there is less and less as fewer people are made aware of the city’s continuing predicament.
Teachers are beginning to speak out on the negligence of the Flint city government. The lack of funding resulted in inadequate preparation for educators with students suffering from the effects of lead exposure.
“There was very minimal training in dealing with the signs and symptoms of lead poisoning,” Bethany Dumanois, who has taught in Flint for 25 years, told The New York Times. “They gave us a couple of brochures and called it a day.”
Perhaps more alarming than the brain and behavioral damages these children are facing is the lack of attention they are getting. While there are charities working to assist the children with recovery, most of the country seems to think Flint’s lead-infused water is an issue of the past.
Flint is not receiving as many monetary donations as they were in 2014, which is bad news for a school system that was already close to being in shambles. In addition, Congress promised to cover 40% of the cost of accommodations for students with special needs, but Flint has only seen 14 to 17% .
It is disheartening that our national government is numb to the plights of defenseless children. We have seen this frustrating indifference again and again in the midst of a culture of school shootings.
Despite the countless photos of terrified students straggling single-file out of a generic school building, Congress has yet to take significant action on passing gun control regulations. If we have yet to see our federal government take measures against students being gunned down in their classrooms, it makes sense that they do not view children suffering educational repercussions due to lead exposure as a pressing issue.
Stephanie Pascal, who has taught in Flint for 23 years, said it best in her comment to The New York Times: “If you were driving down the road and saw a kid walking from a car injured and bloody, do you ignore it?” Pascal said. “That’s what I’m seeing.”
This is more than a state of emergency — this is an attack on humanity. Residents of Flint have not only been deprived of the most basic of human rights with the contamination of their water supply, but now their children are having their education stolen from them.
For a government established primarily to give back to its constituents to allocate funds to services that serve selfish purposes — the pipeline project to Lake Huron, for example — to neglect children in need is hypocritical to say the least.
If you wish to donate to the Flint families who need our help, visit these charitable sites: https://www.unitedwaygenesee.org, https://www.fbem.org/how-to-help/help-flint/, and https://www.cfgf.org.