Flint, Mich., drew its water from the Flint River for about 18 months after ditching Detroit's water service—but that was enough time to cause lead levels in local kids to spike, which has now led the mayor to declare a state of emergency, Michigan Live reports. Mayor Karen Weaver told the Flint City Council Monday that the city needs federal help in dealing with the crisis. "The City of Flint has experienced a Manmade disaster," Weaver wrote in a statement posted on Twitter. Residents complained after the switch in April 2014 about urine-colored water that smelled and tasted awful, as well as health concerns like hair loss. City and state officials first denied the water was unsafe, the Washington Post reports, but in January, a notice was issued to residents noting that a disinfection byproduct tied to cancer and other illnesses was present in the water. Not only that, but lead leached into untreated (or insufficiently treated) corrosive water as it swept through old pipes, the Detroit Free Press notes.
Genesee County first declared a public health emergency after a study found that from April 2014 to October 2015, the percentage of babies and children with lead levels in their blood that were higher than average almost doubled throughout the city, while those in particularly high-risk areas saw that percentage almost triple, per Michigan Live. The city is once again hooked up to the Detroit water system, but fears remain high: The WHO notes the "neurological and [behavioral] effects of lead are believed to be irreversible," adding that affected kids can suffer mental retardation, disruptive behavior, and even coma and death. "The deliberately false denials about the safety of the Flint River water was as deadly as it was arrogant," reads a class-action lawsuit filed in November by Flint residents, per the Post. (Victims of lead poisoning are losing millions of dollars.)