As if the lead-contaminated water in Michigan wasn’t already a grave threat to the health of residents, state officials have noted a spike in Legionnaires' disease over the past two years.
Last summer, people in Flint discovered they had been drinking tap water with dangerously high levels of lead which can cause reproductive system problems and damage the nervous system.
It all began in 2014 when the city under the orders of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R), had switched from the Detroit system to the Flint River, reportedly to save money — some $5 million. But the corrosive water was not treated and, over time, allowed harmful substances such as lead and copper to from the old pipes. Last October, after the state government admitted it had failed to prevent water contamination, Flint switched back to Detroit's water system.
“As we work to ensure that all Flint residents have access to clean and safe drinking water, we are providing them with the direct assistance they need in order to stretch our resources further," Snyder said in a statement announcing the decision. "The Michigan National Guard is trained and ready to assist the citizens of Flint."
However, the damage has already been done.
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"A lot of people are moving away. They are fed up, and the ones that can afford it will leave the city," Michigan Live quoted Florlisa Fowler, a Flint resident, as saying. "This should never have been allowed to happen. I feel like they knew what was going to happen."
An entire generation could suffer since the effects of lead exposure to children cannot be reversed later in life. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect IQ, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement. And effects of lead exposure cannot be corrected.”
Adding to the disaster, Genesee County, which includes Flint, has recorded 87 cases of Legionnaires' disease from June 2014 (two months after switching from Detroit water to Flint River) to November 2015 (a month after switching it back to Detroit system).
Also known as Legion fever, it is a respiratory illness that’s caused by bacteria called legionella that breed in water systems and can be fatal sometimes.
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Although there isn’t any evidence yet linking the outbreak to the water crisis, health officials are looking into the possibility of a connection.