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High Lead Levels Force State Of Emergency In Flint, Mich.


The city of Flint, Mich. is in a state of emergency this morning. Flint's mayor, Karen Weaver, made that declaration because of lead in the city's water supply.


While under state-appointed emergency management last year, the city switched water sources. The water would no longer come from Detroit's water supply but instead from the Flint River. That water was corrosive and damaged by the city's pipes, allowing lead to leach out. Soon after, doctors began seeing elevated levels of lead in the blood of Flint's children.

GREENE: While it is impossible to say with certainty that the water caused this, officials note that nothing else major has changed in the environment. Two months ago, Flint was reconnected to its original water source, but Mayor Karen Weaver says the damage has been done. Much of the system needs to be replaced, and some water still isn't safe to drink. The mayor says that people knew something was wrong with the water from the very beginning.

KAREN WEAVER: The water didn't look right, didn't smell right, didn't taste right. People were breaking out. They had skin rashes, and people had hair falling out. People talked about their pets getting sick. Now I think what really triggered it to go to a larger step was when maybe it was one or two families started noticing that their kids weren't reaching developmental milestones and took them to the doctor, and that was when they found out about the lead.

GREENE: Developmental milestones, meaning they weren't talking, reading.

WEAVER: Right. You know, there's certain things you should be doing at certain ages, whether it's walking, whether it's talking, whether it's being able to put certain kinds of things together. You know, you become more independent the older you get.

GREENE: But I know the effects of lead poisoning can be long-lasting, I mean, which makes me wonder how...

WEAVER: Well, they're irreversible. For kids that are under the age, you know, 5 and younger, that brain damage is irreversible, and that's the concern.

GREENE: You're talking about what could be an entire generation of kids who are going to be growing up in Flint with a lot of serious problems. I mean, it's that widespread, potentially?

WEAVER: That's what I'm talking about.

GREENE: So in terms of what you need right now, what are the priorities?

WEAVER: We need funding, and we need resources. You know, it's an infrastructure crisis for us, so we know that's going to be a tremendous cost and burden on the city of Flint that we can't handle by ourselves. And then you talk about all of the social support services that kids are going to need, whether it's the mental health, whether it's learning disabilities, whether it's because of the juvenile justice system. The cost of that is unknown.

GREENE: Juvenile justice system, I mean, you're expecting there might be more crimes committed because of this.

WEAVER: Well, you know, what happens if - for kids that may have some kind of cognitive deficits or developmental delays, a lot of times they end up in the juvenile justice system.

GREENE: Do you, the city, take responsibility for this?

WEAVER: I can't talk about anything that happened before I got here. I've been here for about five or six weeks trying to do all we can do to get kids and families the resources that they deserve.

GREENE: Are you and your family from Flint?

WEAVER: Yes, I was born and raised here.

GREENE: I think the image many people have of Flint is from "Roger And Me," the Michael Moore movie. They know Flint has...


GREENE: ...Gone through incredibly difficult times with factories closing. Do you ever feel like, why is my city put through things like this? Are we cursed in some way?

WEAVER: You know what, really, I don't. I know some bad things have happened in Flint, but we've got colleges and universities that are here, and Jim has - they did an announcement about some investment that they're going to do in the city of Flint, so we've got some other things going on. The bad thing is it's just being overshadowed by the water issue right now.

GREENE: Mayor Weaver, thank you for taking the time, and we'll hope for the best as you move through this crisis. Best of luck to you and the city.

WEAVER: Thank you so much.

GREENE: Mayor Karen Weaver from Flint, Mich. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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