The Flint Water Crisis Through The Eyes of Single Mommies

Photograph by Regina H. Boone—Detroit Free Press/TNS/Newscom
Photograph by Regina H. Boone—Detroit Free Press/TNS/Newscom

Hi Mommies,

I want to share a story that is truly near and dear to my aching heart. Most of you have probably read about my hometown Flint, Michigan and their water crisis in the national news lately or you may havebeen following the reports for the past two years. Really there are no words to describe what the unsuspecting residents, especially all the helpless children of that city, have endured at the hand of “the incompetent leaders who betrayed Flint,” as the Time magazine cover so eloquently put it.

According to USA Today, in April 2014, Governor Rick Snyder made the decision to cut costs (by any means necessary). And under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager, the city’s water supply was switched from Lake Huron (which the state had to pay for) to the filthy Flint River.  Although this water supply was free, it would ultimately cost the residents their quality of life.

As a result of Snyder’s decision, toxic levels of lead were found in the tap water and anyone who drank it, cooked with it, bathed in it, etc., were exposed and poisoned on some level. But children 6 years of age or younger and the unborn children of pregnant women, would suffer the worst blow. Because they are far more susceptible to the lead poisoning, it can cause severe problems on their developing brains and nervous systems.

My heart breaks every time I read a news article that provides more details about the timeline of events caused by this man-made disaster, that ultimately lead up to the state of emergency. It pangs me to know that the local, state, and federal government has failed the residents, especially the children, with their too-little-way-too-late attempts to address this massive problem.

Because there is a plethora of information out there about this public health crisis and news reports still surfacing daily as to how it all started and evolved, I was wondering how I could shed light on this issue for our community. I stumbled on an article on the Lansing State Journal website written by Elisha Anderson of the Detroit Free Press and another on ABC 12 website written by by Jessica Dupnack, that shared the personal plights of single mommies and what life has been like for them and their children since the #flintwatercrisis began.

I’m warning you now, their stories are all heart-rending! I couldn’t help but cry out for these mommies. They are raising their children the best they know how in the midst of all of this, some of which have no choice, but to deal and  watch them suffer from the effects of the lead poisoning, fear every day of their lives for their physical and cognitive health and well-being, because of their exposure to the toxic lead.

Ariana Hawk, 25, bathes her middle child, Sincere Smith, 2, who is unable to bathe with Flint’s tap water. She says he is suffering from a breakouts all over his body due to a reaction to the contaminated water. She must use bottled water to wash him. Photo Credit: Regina H. Boone/Detroit Free Press

Elisha Anderson shared that Ariana Hawk heated a bowl of distilled water in the microwave, dipped a washcloth in it and wiped her 2-year-old son’s itchy, irritated skin.

She said she has been cleaning Sincere Smith’s body this way — or with wet wipes — since last summer, because the boy’s doctor doesn’t want him bathing in the tap water at their Flint home.

“I can’t afford to go buy 20 gallons of water just to bathe him one time,” said Hawk, a 25-year-old single mother of three who attends Mott Community College and is pregnant.

Sincere has rough patches of skin on his legs, arms and face, she explained, adding that his skin condition started with a rash on his stomach after Flint switched it water-supply source from Lake Huron to the more polluted and corrosive Flint River in April 2014 while under control of a state-appointed emergency manager.

Hawk blames the water for her middle child’s suffering and plans to sue.

“We get treated like … we don’t matter,” she said. “That’s how it’s been feeling.”

Residents across Flint — some of whom stopped using the water immediately after the cost-saving change because of its smell, color, taste and source and others who continued to drink and cook with it — echo her frustration.

People, pets, even plants have been affected by the poisonous, lead-contaminated water, they said.

Community members feel betrayed, worried, angry, sad and stressed and are bracing for what will happen next in Flint, a city with 99,000 residents, 40% of whom live in poverty.

The city has seen a spike in the levels of lead in children’s blood. Lead poisoning, experts say, affects IQs and has lifelong impacts, including learning disabilities, speech and language problems and an increased risk for behavioral issues.

“This is a population-wide exposure,” said Hurley Children’s Hospital pediatrician Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha.

Kids absorb lead more easily and have been exposed to lead if they drank Flint water since April 2014, health officials said.

Photo Credit: Ryan Garza/Detroit Free Press
Lee Anne Walters of Flint heated up bottled water in November for her twin sons to take a weekly bath as son, Gavin Walters, 4, looked on. “My family will never drink from a tap again,” Walters told the Detroit Free Press. Flint rejoined the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department in October. Photo Credit: Ryan Garza/Detroit Free Press

Jessica Dupnack shared how, a mother of four is pointing fingers at the City of Flint.

She claims her child got lead poisoning from the water in her south side home, but city officials continue to say the water meets all state and federal standards.

Virginia Tech Researchers said harsh water from the Flint River is leading to elevated lead levels.

Whatever the cause, LeeAnne Walters says her son Gavin was poisoned by it.

“He gets bathed in bottled water, we wash his clothes outside of the home and he’s not allowed to drink,” Walters said. 

Gavin started losing his hair, he couldn’t gain weight and he had a constant rash.

According to his medical records reviewed by ABC12 News, Gavin tested positive for lead poisoning.

“I cried because of the exposure list of what lead can do to a child,” Walters said. 

Walters blamed the Flint water system.

When the City of Flint came to test her water, it confirmed her fears.

The Environmental Protection Agency states drinking water shouldn’t exceed more than 15 parts per billion, or ppb, for lead.

The City’s tests showed levels nearly seven times higher.

Walters said the City of Flint brought in a contractor to replace some of the pipes leading to her home, but the problem didn’t go away completely.

“The city is still putting out reports today that the water is fine, that everything is OK, but it is not,” Walters said. 

Her story sparked researchers at Virginia Tech University to do their own testing.

Out of 30 samples taken from Walters’ home, the average was 2,500 ppb.

It wasn’t just her house; dozens of other samples exceeded that threshold, according to lead researcher Marc Edwards.

Edwards advises children under 6 and pregnant women avoid drinking the water.

“Don’t drink it, don’t use it to brush your teeth, try not to bathe them in it,” Walters said. 

Gavin’s health is improving, but Walters is concerned over cognitive development from the exposure. She wants his story to serve as a warning.

“I don’t want any other mom to feel how I felt, that I went through,” Walters said. 

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Pamela Battle, 36, a single mother of seven, says her entire household was drinking Flint water until earlier this week. She says she now understands that their is a water crisis. She is shown here in her home with two of her younger children, Brianna Battle, 2, left and Bryalen Burnes. Photo Credit: Regina H. Boone/Detroit Free Press

“I love my kids,” said Pamela Battle. “I want them to grow up like I grew up … wasn’t no worries about no water.” 

Battle, whose seven children range in age from 1 to 16, said she got a water filter Monday. Before that, she was using water from her faucet to cook, make Kool-Aid and put it in bottles for her two youngest children, according to Elisha Anderson.

“We were drinking it regularly,” said Battle, 36. “The whole family. Everyone here.”

The water in her previous home was discolored and tasted terrible, she said, but when she moved to her house on Chambers in December 2014, the water came out of the faucet clear and tasted fine. She said she didn’t realize there was an issue.

At the urging of her mother, Battle went to Freeman Elementary School on Tuesday with some of her kids to get their blood checked for lead. The school hosted an event where she learned about lead poisoning and its effects on children.

“I’m really concerned now,” she said.

Battle said she has no choice but to stay in Flint with her children and live with the water crisis. Others have had enough and plan to leave.

 Regrettably, there are more stories just like these, that are out there waiting to be told and heard by the world. Because of the long-term effects of this crisis, it’s just a matter of time before they all surface. If you’re wondering how you can help, I’m sharing some ways to advocate, donate or help that I pulled from a list compiled by The Lansing State Journal. I’ll be updating it, so feel free to revisit the article. If you have any helpful information, please, please, please leave a comment.

Hope you’re feeling encouraged today, we have a lot to be thankful for!

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Here’s how you can help:

You can donate to the Flint Child Health & Development Fund which was created to serve the needs of Flint children exposed to lead, particularly those most vulnerable – children ages 0-6 – which are ongoing and long-term.  Donations can be made at www.flintkids.com.

Flint Community Schools is accepting cash donations and bottled water. Call the district’s finance office at 810-767-6030 about cash donations. Bottled water drop-offs can be coordinated by calling 810-760-1310.

Donations are being accepted by the United Way of Genesee Count.: Visit unitedwaygenesee.org and click on the “GIVE” button. There’s an option to support the Flint Water Project. Call 810-232-8121 for details. A new phase for outreach is investment in services to help residents who have been exposed to contaminated water.

To help Flint community activists who are delivering water: Call Melissa Mays at 810-423-3435.

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