I was driving home recently and I heard another NPR story on the Flint, Mich., water crisis. These stories shake me for two reasons: Because I’m a parent. And because it’s my hometown.
It’s my family and friends who are suffering. My Facebook feed is full of people angry about what happened and impatient for a resolution. Their children were poisoned, and the effects are irreversible.
If you haven’t been following the coverage out of Michigan, in 2014, the city switched its water supply from the Detroit system to the Flint River to save money while under emergency state management. The corrosive river water caused lead to leach from old pipes.
And here’s the worst part: When lead is consumed, it can cause developmental delays, learning disabilities and aggression in children.
Flint has switched back to the Detroit system, but the damage to the pipes — and to the families — is done.
My family stopped drinking tap water years before the crisis made national news. But when I went home for Christmas, we were still cooking with it, not knowing that boiling makes the lead more concentrated and more dangerous.
I’m sure my son is OK; we were only in town a few days. But many children who live in Flint are not.
There are so many things that we all take for granted. The other day, Tommy pointed to his straw cup. I filled it up with tap water and I watched him take a few sips, play with it and dribble water on the floor. If we were in Flint, I would have had to fill that cup with bottled water and then make sure he didn’t waste any. Super easy with a toddler, right?
Moms who want to make their kids spaghetti for dinner have to use bottled water to boil the noodles.
One of my high school friends said on Facebook that she doesn’t let her kids bathe — they take quick showers only.
My son loves baths. And after spaghetti night, they’re totally necessary. I can’t imagine not being able to plop him in the water.
Since I became a mom, I get upset every time I hear a tragic story about children getting hurt. What if that were my baby? And had I not moved to Kansas City in 2003, my child could have been among those with lead poisoning.
It breaks my heart.
Yes, Flint is getting lots of bottled water donations. And families, including mine, have been given free filters. I’m grateful, but I don’t think that’s good enough. If it was your child, would that be good enough for you? I would want all new pipes. And that’s what my friends and family want, too.
I’m with my son in Michigan now. I’m being extra careful, just as Flint parents are every day. Someday, though, I hope none of us will have to take precautions. I hope someday soon I can brush Tommy’s teeth with tap water when we visit family. I hope my sister can make his favorite mac ’n’ cheese without needing to filter the water first. I hope before my son turns 5, I can put him in my childhood bathtub without worrying.
Gov. Rick Snyder Thursday announced a $2 million grant to replace some pipes. It’s a start, but Flint Mayor Karen Weaver has said that her plan to replace all the lead pipes in homes would cost $55 million.
Aren’t America’s children worth every penny? They deserve the best possible start in life. They deserve health. At the very least, they deserve safe water.