Flint water crisis a reminder of lead danger
By: Mel Callan
National news media has focused on the horrific health crisis unfolding in Flint, Michigan. Corrosive water from the Flint River, in use since 2014, destroyed the protective coating inside old pipes, allowing lead to contaminate the city’s drinking water. As a result, an increased number of children in Flint have been lead poisoned.
Over a decade ago, our community made the commitment to reduce lead poisoning—and we have produced results that make us proud. But, the unforgiveable mess in Michigan reminds us to take a hard look in our own backyard. We don’t have a water problem like Flint, but we continue to have a lead problem. Despite similar testing rates, in 2014 Rochester reported nearly twice as high a percentage of lead poisoned children as Flint. Lead poisoning from any source is an environmental injustice. We don’t share this to diminish the tragedy in Flint, but to provoke a call to action. Many cities can provide similar heartbreaking statistics.
In Rochester, the biggest sources of lead poisoning is dust and paint in homes. Although 90 percent of the housing stock in both Rochester and Flint was built before 1978, most of Rochester’s housing was built before 1950, when lead paint was most widely used.
It’s tempting to think that if you have lead-free water, your child is safe. But it’s not true. Even if all the children in Flint get clean water and medical care, if they live in pre-1978 housing with chipping/peeling paint, they are not safe.