In March 2013, Flint, Michigan switched their primary water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River, introducing pollutants into their water system. Now Flint sits at the center of the nation’s attention as an example of an infrastructural failure. Its water has turned a deep brown from high levels of lead and iron, and the Environmental Protection Agency’s regional advisor, Susan Hedman, will resign effective February 1. This national attention has led communities nationwide to take another look at their water supplies.
The Flint water crisis has reignited Baltimore residents’ concern over our own lead-poisoning situation. Between 1993 and 2013, over 65,000 children in Baltimore City were found to have dangerously high blood-lead levels according to the Maryland Department of the Environment. While the rate of children who’ve suffered lead poisoning has decreased since 2011, Baltimore still leads the country at about three times the national rate.
Lead is a material found in household paint, and prolonged exposure to the substance can cause damaging physical and neuropsychological effects such as developmental delays, kidney damage and learning disabilities in young children. These effects can be chronic, negatively affecting the victims for the rest of their lives and derailing countless futures in the process.
Ruth Ann Norton of the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, speaking to The Washington Post, said, “a child who was poisoned with lead is seven times more likely to drop out of school and six times more likely to end up in the juvenile justice system.”
On December 6, 2015, Morgan State Public Health Professor Lawrence Brown posted several maps of the city in order to pinpoint clusters saturated with lead poisoning and how they correlate with homicides and “redlining” or refusing a loan or insurance based on one’s neighborhood. According to the maps, areas with Baltimore City children between zero and six years old with blood lead levels of 10 or above often also live in areas with higher crime rates.
The Washington Post’s Terrence McCoy even found a link between lead poisoning and the infamous Freddie Gray murder: “When Gray lived [on North Carey Street] between 1992 and 1996, paint chips flaked off the walls and littered the hardwood floor, according to a 2008 lawsuit filed in Baltimore City Circuit Court. The front windowsills shed white strips of paint,” he wrote for The Washington Post.
According to McCoy, Gray’s life was “defined by failures in the classroom, run-ins with the law and an inability to focus on anything for very long,” all due to his prior exposure to lead.
On January 12, the Baltimore City Council announced that their first investigative hearing aimed to wipe out city-wide lead poisoning will be held on February 4.