The Flint Water Crisis – An Environmental Medicine Perspective

Flint-Water-Crisis - Naturopathic Response

From afar, it can be easy to look at the Flint, Michigan water crisis as a political issue – it even found itself steeped in a recent presidential debate. But at the root of it all, are the people of Flint.

Yes, of course we want to know how so much lead got into the city’s potable water supply. But, as a mother, a part of me can’t see past the anger I feel, thinking about the vulnerable children whose developing nervous systems may be permanently harmed.

Anger alone doesn’t solve problems, which is why, perhaps, the crisis in Flint has led to me taking to the keyboard to share the resources I know – as a naturopathic physician and public health advocate. My hope is that perhaps some of this information can find its way to the men, women, and children who can’t even brush their teeth without opening up a plastic bottle.

What can you do to minimize lead exposure?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no such thing as a safe blood lead level in children. Even the tiniest amounts of lead can negatively impact a person’s IQ, attention span and academic performance, with no hope of these effects being reversed.

In other words, the goal here isn’t to treat lead poisoning, but to prevent lead exposure in the first place. Lead-based paint and dust have long-been the usual suspects in lead poisoning – the CDC offers a slew of pointers on how to prevent lead exposure as a result of these more traditional sources.

But few people would have predicted that a community’s very own water supply would be the culprit. While, at this time, it appears as though Flint is the only city garnering national attention for this issue, this tragedy reminds us all that anything is possible, and that it’s important to put into place best-practices now, before it’s too late.

Flint, Michigan is not an isolated case

In fact, according to a US Geological survey, Flint is far from alone in the lead issue. The chart below shows lead soil distribution across the US. Lead in the soil, ultimately can leach into the water supply.


Protecting yourself from potential lead poisoning via your water supply doesn’t mean you have to begin investing in bottled water. Many folks are averse to this channel because of the environmental impact involved, or the costs.

While bottled water can be a viable solution for some, there are other options you can pursue. One of the first things you can do, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to have your home water tested. There are two specific instances when you might want to consider having your water tested:

  1. If you suspect lead may be in some of your household plumbing materials and water service lines
  2. If you are considering a home water treatment unit

I encourage you to view this PDF handout on testing your home water by the EPA.

Another step you could take is to install a water filtration system in your home. The types of systems made available to the public today include pitchers and faucet filters (to name just two) and can range in price from roughly $20 to hundreds of dollars for a reverse osmosis unit.

All of these units require some maintenance (including replacing filters based on the manufacturer’s recommendations), and not all of them remove the same types of contaminants. The EPA has developed a comprehensive guideline for water filtration systems.

Addressing the crisis and the cause

Naturopathic medical education teaches us to address the cause of our patients’ ailments. Following that perspective, we have to do more for the people of Flint than just respond to their symptoms. We must also diligently work on cleaning up our environment and stopping the root of the water supply poisoning.

“Flint is just the tip of the iceberg- there are many other Flints out there as yet undiscovered due to aging infrastructure,” says Dr. Anne Marie Fine, Director of Education of the Naturopathic Academy of Environmental Medicine. “For the sake of our children’s future, we need to ensure that swift action is undertaken when exposure to environmental toxicants is identified, and that the children are safely treated by naturopathic doctors, who are trained in environmental medicine, to reduce their toxic body burden.”

I couldn’t agree more with Dr. Fine. Swift action must be taken whenever these toxicants are identified. One of the most devastating aspects of the Flint tragedy is that the full repercussions of the poisoned water supply won’t be realized for many years to come.

In the end, it’s up to us to be informed and proactive, so that when we discover another public water supply compromised, we’ll have put forth a preventative measure to protect ourselves.

In health,

JoAnn Yanez, ND, MPH, CAE
AANMC Executive Director


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