The dirty, toxic water of Flint, Michigan poisoned the city of nearly 100,000 and killed 12 people through Legionnaire’s disease, an extreme form of pneumonia. Residents got sick from drinking the water; and now it has been discovered that they’ve also gotten sick from avoiding it.
Mic reported yesterday (October 6) on a shigellosis outbreak currently plaguing the city. Shigellosis is a highly contagious gastrointestinal disease caused by the bacteria Shigella that can cause diarrhea, fever and abdominal pain. It’s easily avoided through proper hand washing.
However, in Flint, contact with tap water often led to skin rashes and hair loss at the height of the crisis. People don’t trust the water; they’re understandly wary and afraid of it.
With this distrust comes a change in behavior: An August 2016 report by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services found that nearly 80 percent of those surveyed changed their bathing habits. Almost 32 percent bathed with bottled water. Roughly 4 percent used baby wipes, yet baby wipes don’t kill the Shigella bacteria. Water does, but free bottled water is becoming harder to obtain.
"All fire stations [stopped] passing out free drinking water," resident Artina Buggs said in a text message Wednesday. "It’s churches and wards passing out water, but one ward stopped already."
When the crisis broke out, the city converted its fire stations into National Guard-supported water distribution sites. In May, however, that system was deemed unsustainable and shut down. "It was taxing on the fire department to have those services," Rico Philips, Flint Fire Department’s quartermaster, said in a phone interview Thursday.
In the months that followed, community water resource sites opened throughout the city. Now the distribution sites live on a mishmash of available square footage: churches, a bowling alley, a couple event spaces and a retired farmers’ market, all watched over by community members as part of a work experience program.
Genesee County, where Flint is, has seen 85 shigellosis cases so far this year—the highest in the state. According to the CDC, the average annual incidence in the United States is 4.82 cases per 100,000 individuals. In Genesee County—with a population of over 400,000—it’s closer to 20 per 100,000 individuals.
On the bright side, the Department of Education awarded Flint schools a $480,000 grant today (October 7). Exposure to lead can cause a multitude of development issues in children, especially those younger than 6: lower IQ’s, shortened attention spans and decreased academic achievement, according to the CDC. This grant will pay for 12 new employees who will work on attendance, discipline and mental health problems with students.
"Helping the people of Flint recover from this water crisis is our collective responsibility," said U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. to MLive.com. "This Project SERV grant will help the students and educators foster a nurturing school environment. We want those impacted to receive the supports they need to work through this difficult situation.”
Read the complete Mic piece here.