Preventive Medicine Failure: The Flint Michigan Example

The crucial role of preventive medicine is usually not quite apparent until there is a costly blatant failure as presently exemplified at Flint Michigan. The dangerous effect of lead poisoning on modern society is so well recognized that homes and public water supply systems built in the US in the last two decades have been totally free of lead pipes.

Older homes and public water supply systems have either been repiped or demolished for obvious safety reasons. Cities that are unable to identify all their old lead pipe connections use corrosion control to protect inner lining of city water pipes. When these basic preventive measures (Kemper, Alex et al, 2007) were overlooked in Flint Michigan, a huge water crisis quickly developed.

Flint City had been buying healthy Huron Lake water treated at Detroit water plants for over fifty years prior to 2013. But in 2013 the city voted to switch over to a cheaper water pipeline being built to Lake Huron. This caused Detroit City to abruptly cancel their water supply contract leaving Flint without water supply.

On April 25, 2014, in a desperate move to maintain water supply to 100, 000 Flint citizens Darnell Earley, an emergency city manager, appointed by Governor Rick Snyder, decided (Reissman, D.B. et al, 2001) to switch their water supply to the corrosive Flint river water, without corrosion control and against expert warning. Experts had recommended a short term contract renewal with Detroit City to by Flint City the time it needed for lead pipe replacement and corrosion control, at an estimated cost of 1.5 million dollars. But that recommendation was overtaken by even

Soon after the switch Flint households started reporting fowl odor from their their tap water, along with brown discoloration. The local DEQ tested and confirmed E. Coli in Flint watersystem. Chlorine was introduced into the water system to clear the bacteria, and citizens were reassured that the city water safe. By January 2015, a toxic level of chlorine byproducts, Total Trihalomethanes (TTHM) was reported in the Flint water system.

Between April and June 4014, Flint residents started reporting deeper browning of their tap water, hair loss, and neurological symptoms in their kids. The DEQ tested samples of Flint City water and said it met federal standards of < 5 parts per million of lead (Handler, Phoebe, etal, 2016). It even went as far as reporting to EPA that Flint City was compliant in their use of erosion control, which was not true.

Flint citizens became suspicious of their DEQ, and started conducting their own water testing and blood testing for lead (Carty Denise C. et al, 2016). The found toxic levels of lead in their tap water. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha a pediatrician at Hurley Medical Center, also discovered a rise in the number of school kids with high blood lead from 2.9% – 4.9% since the switch in April 2014. So they invited an expert, Dr. Edwards, a city water lead control advocate, from Virginia Tech to come and test their tap water samples. He confirmed toxic levels of lead in the water samples and notified the city council

In less than three months the toxic Flint river water had badly eroded the inner lining of the all the underground lead pipes delivering water to Flint City. Lead began leaching into the water city water system and turning the water progressively brown.

Media pressure from Dr Edward’s EPA report and The Rachel Maddow Show reports on MSNBC lead to the declaration of public health emergency in Flint City by Governor Rick Snyder on Ocober16, 2015. Even with the declaration of a disaster, Governor Rick Snyder allegedly would not reach out to the federal government for disaster relief fund, until presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called him out on MSNBC.

Flint citizens, who are predominantly blacks, took to the streets in protest against Governor Snyder, accusing him of racism. In an affect to contain the situation, the state government has now put the pediatrician who blew the whistle in charge of the Flint water crisis disaster control committee. But the citizens are still calling for the resignation of Governor Schnider.

Of all the complications of lead poisoning (Hou Shunngxing et al., 2016; Korfmacher.Katerina S., et al, 2016), the one that will cost Michigan State the most is the brain damage in school kids (Finkelstein, Myra et al, 2016). Those kids with low IQ and learning disorder will not only be a loss, but also a financial burden to the state economy for decades to come. Compare that to a couple of million dollars that would have contained the Michigan river leaching in the first place. This is a good example of what preventive medicine should not be in the 21st century.


Kemper, Alex R., Rebecca L. Uren, and Sharon R. Hudson. “Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Activities Within Michigan Local Public Health Departments.” Public Health Reports 122.1 (2007): 88-92. Print.

Hou, Shuangxing et al. “A Clinical Study of the Effects of Lead Poisoning on the Intelligence and Neurobehavioral Abilities of Children.” Theoretical Biology & Medical Modelling 10 (2013): 13. PMC. Web. 1 Feb. 2016.

Korfmacher, Katrina S., and Michael L. Hanley. “Are Local Laws the Key to Ending Childhood Lead Poisoning?” Journal of health politics, policy and law 38.4 (2013): 757-813. PMC. Web. 1 Feb. 2016.

Carty, Denise C. et al. “Racism, Health Status, and Birth Outcomes: Results of a Participatory Community-Based Intervention and Health Survey.” Journal of Urban Healthâ�¯: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine 88.1 (2011): 84-97. PMC. Web. 1 Feb. 2016.

Finkelstein, Myra E. et al. “Lead Poisoning and the Deceptive Recovery of the Critically Endangered California Condor.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 109.28 (2012): 11449-11454.PMC. Web. 1 Feb. 2016.

Reissman, D B et al. “Use of Geographic Information System Technology to Aid Health Department Decision Making about Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Activities.” Environmental Health Perspectives 109.1 (2001): 89-94. Print.

Handler, Phoebe, and Daniel Brabander. “Increased Incidence and Altered Risk Demographics of Childhood Lead Poisoning: Predicting the Impacts of the CDC’s 5 µg/dL Reference Value in Massachusetts (USA).” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 9.11 (2012): 3934-3942. PMC. Web. 1 Feb. 2016.