Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Suffer the Children

JAMA has an interview with Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician in Flint Michigan who oversaw the tests on children's blood lead levels after the contaminated water was discovered, and now leads efforts to take care of the kids. This is a disaster that will reverberate for decades, cost taxpayers untold tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, and of course most important, damage hundreds of children. As Dr. Hanna-Attisha says,

[T]he consequences of lead exposure are forever. It [has long-term] impacts [on] cognition and behavior: those are the 2 we care about most. It affects every organ system. It drops IQ. Imagine what we have done to our entire population: we have shifted the IQ curve down. It impacts behavior, so it causes lots of problems with learning, focusing, conduct disorder, impulse disorder, and it has even been linked to criminality. Lead has these life-damning consequences.
 The doctors found that the prevalence of acute, detectable lead in blood in flint more than doubled, to 4.9%, but that's an underestimate. We don't even know how many children are affected because many of them were poisoned as infants and may not have been tested in time to discover it. We haven't worried much about infants in the past because most lead exposure has come from paint and kids who aren't crawling around on the floor yet and aren't engaged in hand to mouth activity weren't considered at risk. But Flint is a different story. As the good doctor says:

Our population was already rattled with toxic stresses. We have a 40% poverty rate, high rates of unemployment, high rates of violence, and high rates of single parents. We have no grocery stores in Flint. The people in Flint have a 20-year lower life expectancy than people in a neighboring suburb. We were already struggling with every barrier to our children’s success. Then we gave them lead. This is added toxic stress to the toxic stresses we already had. . . .  Parents are traumatized. For almost 2 years, we were betrayed. There is a huge lack of trust in the government and a fear of the unknown.
Rick Snyder is still the governor, still drawing his salary, still sitting in the corner office, putting his own kids in private school, no doubt. [I don't actually know that.] That's not where he belongs.

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