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The Flint Lead Crisis May Be the Tip of the Iceberg

Back in the 1960s, a Pulitzer prize-winning scientist described the problem of childhood lead poisoning as “so well defined, so neatly packaged with both causes and cures known, that if we don’t eliminate this social crime, our society deserves all the disasters that have been forecast for it.”

As I discuss in my video Lead in Drinking Water, “We have the knowledge required to redress this social crime. We know where the lead is, how people are exposed, and how it damages health. What we lack is the political will to do what should be done.” Unfortunately, “many policy makers consider the costs of action primarily in economic and financial terms and ignore the costs of inaction on human health and communities’ livelihoods.”

“At this point, most Americans have heard of the avoidable and abject failure of government on the local, state and federal level; environmental authorities; and water company officials”—in fact, failure across the board—“to prevent the mass poisoning of hundreds of children and adults in Flint, Michigan.”

“A government plan to save some money had led public officials to switch the city’s water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River, once the sewer for the auto industry.” Flint citizens “complained that their tap water was foul and discolored. But city, state, and federal officials took no heed.”

Why? Could it have anything to do with the fact that those who complained are “among the poorest in America, mostly African American”?

Officials failed to act for eighteen months, “until a local pediatrician revealed dramatically elevated lead levels in children’s blood.” An investigation didn’t just find fault but highlighted seeming falsification of water-quality results to keep people in the dark.

Though “the specific breed of alleged government corruption” may be unique to Flint, “the end result might not be so rare in the USA—home to an ageing water system.” As the president of the Children’s Health Fund said, “The Pandora’s box is now wide open.” Flint may be only “the tip of an enormous iceberg”—potentially “just one of a great many icebergs.”

“In addition to lead-based paint and residual lead in soil”—found everywhere from leaded gasoline—“a significant source of childhood lead exposure occurs through drinking water as a result of leaching from lead pipes, lead solder, or brass fixtures.” This has been recognized to be a health issue in the United States as early as 1845, a year our flag only had 26 stars. Yet, the use of lead in water pipes and solder was not restricted until the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendment, 141 years later. Was the city you’re living in built before 1986 when the amendment was passed? Today, the “exact number of lead water pipes currently in use is not clear” as about one in three cities surveyed shrugged their shoulders, “not being able to state how much lead piping exists.”

There are anti-corrosion chemicals you can add to tap water to try to keep the lead in the pipes. Flint could have done that, but it could have cost about $100 a day. Today, “the cost of repairing the Flint water system is estimated at $1.5 billion…”

Let me close with a quote from the heroic pediatrician who blew the whistle, Dr. Hanna-Attisha. She was asked, “What advice would you have for other physicians taking on a whistle-blower role?” She replied, “This is our job. This is why we went to medical school—to help people.”

Wasn’t there lead in paint, too, for the longest time? Yes, and that’s the subject of my video How the Lead Paint Industry Got Away with It. And what about leaded gasoline? How many of you remember going to the pumps and seeing the choice between leaded and unleaded? That’s the subject of How the Leaded Gas Industry Got Away with It.

I also get into what the effects are and what we can do about it. Check out:

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live presentations:


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

36 responses to “The Flint Lead Crisis May Be the Tip of the Iceberg

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  1. “This has been recognized to be a health issue in the United States as early as 1845, a year our flag only had 26 stars.”

    I am always amazed by what you see through the historical lens.

    Yes, I do remember having vehicles that took leaded gasoline and having rooms having lead paint.

    Until Flint though, I really never had the concept of lead in the water. Of course, I didn’t drink water, so it might just not have been interesting to me back then.

    I do drink water now.

  2. When I lived in Madison, WI, in the late 1990s to early 2000s, random sampling of residential tap water revealed levels of lead in a sufficient number of samples that exceeded allowable limits. So the legally mandated solution was to replace old lead water mains and pipes to houses. I lived in a neighborhood that was built in the early 1900s, as were many neighborhoods in and near the city center, so mains and pipes were almost all lead.

    After much debate about how to share the costs, it was decided that all water customers would pay a surcharge to pay for replacing the water mains and one-half of the cost of the lines to individual houses, while residents who had lines replaced — and replacement was required — paid the other half. As I recall, that cost was about $800-$900 per house.

    Remediation can be expensive. But it’s necessary. And the costs of lead poisoning are unacceptably high.

    1. Dr. J.,

      Yes, necessary and yet so cost-prohibitive for poor people.

      As I have been trying to get my house in order, every single time, what goes through my mind is that everybody wants 1000 dollars or 10,000 dollars or 20,000 dollars.

      For 1/4 of Americans, $20,000 is more than their take-home pay.

      For 1/2 of Americans, it is closer to $33,000 but you have to deduct closer to $6,000 in taxes, so that brings it closer to $27,000 before property taxes or insurance or utilities, which brings it down to lower than $20,000 to buy the stupidly expensive appliances and furniture and food.

      I fall in that category but I have worked so hard to take care of things one at a time.

      I hate that solar is going to be run as a scam business for the most part and that no matter how low my electric usage is, my fees are double my usage, so even if I get a solar generator, it will only bring down my usage side.

      It is so hard to do the math and then when you add how expensive the things to fix the environment are, it is even more frustrating.

      I can afford the panels. I don’t even want to talk with people who are going to try to charge me twice as much for the labor.

      Titan solar generators stay on my list. I could buy one for each room with extra batteries and go off grid.

    2. “Why? Could it have anything to do with the fact that those who complained are “among the poorest in America, mostly African American’?”
      You cite so many instances of government negligence that were clearly unrelated to racial prejudice. Does it benefit our society or racial relationships to toss out accusations so casually? Where there is what to correct, it must be corrected, but to cry, “Racism!” without evidence simply stokes the fires of resentment, if not hatred. We are one nation, and “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”

      1. Thank you for your comment. I live in a township adjacent to Flint. There are people of all ethnic backgrounds in Flint. The water problem was not a racial problem. It was a government run poorly problem.

  3. How can you leave out the elephant in the room? Water Fluoridation!!! The industrial by-products used to dose our potable water with Fluoride is a powerful solvent which is eroding the lead and other hazardous chemicals into drinking water. Fluoridating our water is causing the lead poisoning!

    1. Unacceptable lead levels in water predated fluoridation.

      Can you cite any scientific studies that show that floridating water increases lead leaching into the water supply?

    1. Amanda,
      We use Clearly Filtered. Not the cheapest but very effective, much more so than cheaper solutions. Once we filter the water we transfer it from the plastic container to a lead-free glass container.

      Regarding filling in the actual ballot I’ve read the trickiest part is the signature because they will do signature matching against old records like driver’s licenses or previous voting signatures. I am often quite sloppy a out my signature so in my case that could be an issue.

      Check out their test results and compare them to any others you are looking into.

      1. Wow, I have no idea how that bit about mail in voting got inserted! LOL. I clearly need more iPad training!

        Please ignore.

    2. Amanda,

      Dr. Greger did at least one video on it and unfortunately, I am pretty sure that filters breed bacteria was one of the answers.

      But UV light kills bacteria, so a baby bottle sterilizer like Wabi Baby or any UV baby bottle sanitizer after filtering water might help.

      I use Pur because it didn’t require anything other than changing the filters now and then. Meaning nobody had to climb under my sink or go down into my basement.

      I am attracted to Berkey, and it gets good reviews, but first I have to deal with my desire to have solar and that pushes Berkey down the road.

      Though, I may have just decided to go wholesale solar which is so much cheaper if I can convince the man who did all of the work on my house to install them.

      I ended up watching video after video on how some of the companies didn’t show up to fix the panels for a year under lease and how some people had their electricity double and how the big companies sell you $10,000 worth of panels but charge up to another $20,000 in installation fees to pay for their advertising program.

      It is hard to help the environment that way.

    3. Hi Amanda, we use since years such a osmosis plant and stay safe for nearly 99,9% of all contaminations in the water.
      Use Deepl for translation, I’m pretty sure you can buy such a osmosis plant also in the USA. Important, it has to have 5 (!) filters and the filters you have to change regulary, if neccesary…

  4. Having lead run in tap water when it is perfectly avoidable is just disgusting. Obviously, lawmakers have their own water purifiers, probably at the expense of the taxpayers they deny quality drinking water.

    They should serve Flint water to the politicians/administrators who voted against the cleaning measures.

  5. Precisely why politics has always been a dirty word for me. I know there are some good ones, but the priority seems to be what benefits themselves, and $#Z&% the “people” who voted them in.

  6. Thank you for this Dr. Greger. It is clear that if we want a cleaner, safer, livable world, the changes will be made based on pressure from the ground up. Our political system of lobbyist giving money to politicians who can’t win without it, precludes up from getting real change from either party with regard to the environment. Yesterday Kamala Harris was being attacked for suggesting, in answer to a question in the past, that she would be for recommending that the US diet has less red meat.

    1. Maureen Fischer,

      “The American Medical Association has recommended that meat and dairy be presented as optional rather than required in the next iteration of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The AMA submitted its recommendations to the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), which is slated to release new dietary guidelines by the end of the year.”

      Amazing!! Progress?

      Probably not. It’s not the first time the AMA has made this recommendation, apparently. I do believe that this will get shot down and shut up by Big Ag, especially the animal industry and the growers and manufacturers who produce animal feed. (Yes, even our food animals eat processed food. It’s everywhere!!)

  7. We need to change the way our society (USA) views these and many other problems from an economic lens. The lead poisoning problem and the lack of action to mitigate and eliminate it is mirrored with how the current pandemic is looked at. Lives are not valued over dollars. That has got to change, all human lives have value and it shouldn’t be thought of in terms of money. What happened to the people in Flint is despicable and corrupt as this blog post states. Whatever monetary settlement they just won is not enough to fix what was done. How can anyone trust the govt. when they are responsible for the harm.
    Ever since hearing about this, I have tested the water of where I have lived, no matter how many times I was told oh I’ve never heard of any problem with the public water. The people of Flint were told there was no problem! If you can afford to do a water test, I recommend it for some piece of mind, and don’t forget to request the blood lead tests at the pediatrician annual physicals for your kids. It was covered by my health insurance and I explained that we lived in properties where lead was present. Your knowledge is power.

  8. We accept the toxicity of lead in our environment, yet something far more insidious is lurking beneath a haze surrounding corrupt sectors within Federal watchdogs, medical educational institutions, and journals. The obfuscation and dismissing of independent scientific research and the purchase of state officials and government by Pharmaceutical giants has brought us to the brink of a dystopian social catastrophe.

    With the world about to be forced to comply by exclusionary coercion, or outright mandate to accept numerous vaccines which will undoubtedly result in toxic effects for perhaps tens of millions of people, the actual health risks of these drugs has not been thoroughly investigated by independent researchers due to the above noted meddling of Pharma and exclusionary principles employed to discourage closer examination.

    The fact that many scientists and medical professionals who try to debate their theories and findings regarding extreme adverse events are quickly smeared as anti-vax and a campaign of discrediting their credentials and scathing professional ostracism ensues, makes one wonder why are their concerns not being honestly debated and investigated.

    I’m just an engineer, but even I can see that these mavericks may have many valid points. For example, we know that Aluminium is very toxic to an organism, much like a heavy metal, but because of its abundance in the environment our digestive system has inherent mechanisms to keep entry through the gut wall to a minimum. What does not have compensatory mechanisms is the adjunct direct injection into our tissues. Recent published studies by Christopher Exley show that immune phages mop up this aluminium as they would any foreign materials. The exceptional finding was that before the aluminium kills the white cells, some enter the brain and upon death deposit the aluminium around the neuroglia cells which may cause demyelination of nerves, interfere with electrical pulses, and perhaps many things which are not being investigated because of the industrial pharmaceutical complexes resistance and discouragement of any in-depth study of such things.

    Along the same lines we ingest copious amounts of DNA/RNA every day and our digestive tract and other mucous membranes have mechanisms and defences to disassemble and deal with these organic programs. However, when genetic material is delivered straight into our tissues, we have a similar situation to the aluminium, the immune system quickly steps in to clear it away. If we scratch our self on a stick in the forest, we will undoubtedly receive in the wound a myriad of genetic messages and sequences and quite likely viral and bacterial entities as well. After the cleansing flow of blood out the site, the volume of that material will be minimal, perhaps a femtogram to no more than a few picograms. The Oxford Sars-Cov-2 vaccine is being grown on the Human Embryonic Kidney cell line 293 and going by many vaccines tested to date will most likely contain up to 100 nanograms of segmented DNA from this aborted baby girl. Much of this material is ingested by phages, some segments may trigger other immune cells which will produce an antibody against a perceived invading virus, problem is, the DNA is human, we are human, and we may start producing antibodies against ourselves. Further, segmented DNA is highly mutagenic and could enter cells and crash that cell’s genome and initiate tumour-genesis.

    I know this is simplistic and presents what may appear unrealistic, but it seems to me a more common occurrence than is posited. The Gardasil vaccine for instance contains an ingredient not listed on the safety insert. Dr. Sin Hang Lee, a pathologist with expertise in DNA sequencing and DNA sequence analysis said, “HPV DNA in Gardasil is not ‘natural’ DNA. It is a recombinant HPV DNA (rDNA) – genetically engineered – to be inserted into yeast cells for VLP (virus-like-particle) protein production. rDNA is known to behave differently from natural DNA. It may enter a human cell, especially in an inflammatory lesion caused by the effects of the aluminium adjuvant, via poorly understood mechanisms … Once a segment of recombinant DNA is inserted into a human cell, the consequences are hard to predict.”

    From what I have learned, many vaccines although presented as ‘cleaned of contamination’ still contain potentially toxic levels of human mutagenetic materials.

    We tend to think of DNA and proteins as just chemicals and molecular assemblies, but they are as alive as we are, a myriad of different molecular machines operating within your cells at this very moment are more like insects, some have legs for walking, others unzip and zip the DNA strand while others wind and twist the strands into neat packages, they don’t have brains, yet they appear to know instinctively what to do, but they are essentially just groups of different atoms forming a molecule. (check out Drew Berry’s molecular machine animations)
    We are messing with the natural balance of all this, but only understanding the merest of details.

    1. Vaccines save lives. Anti-vaxxers do just the opposite.

      Pretending a concern for product safety is a long-standing anti-vaxxer ruse with the intention of imposing impossible safety standards that can never be met.

      1. One of the best kept secrets of vaccine mega-corporations is the fact that they took credit for a reduction in disease that was 96.5% attributable to socio-ecconomic factors, such as hygiene education, clean potable water, sanitation, and adequate nutrition. By the time the measles virus was isolated, deaths had already reduced 10 fold from that of the mid 19th century.

        Vaccination against measles for instance will prevent some deaths among poorer malnourished children, but it does nothing to address the other societal and health problems that go along with and lie at the root cause of such susceptibility. It is like much of modern medicine, symptom reducing drug pushing, while obfuscation or ignorance of the root cause to ensure profit perpetuity.

        Pharma manipulate this caveat to direct societal policy makers wherein a reduction in death and disease is mitigated not by the far costly route of raising economic and educational status of susceptible sectors of society but by treating the symptoms of that social dysfunction.

        You like the greater percentage of well meaning people in this world have fallen for the spin, you quote the WHO and national health services for your supporting stance, yet these very organisations have been compromised by entanglements with the medical industrial complex.

        I am not against vaccination, like the vast majority of so-called anti-vax people, I crossed over because i see the present solutions are not as pure and free of adverse effects as they could be, they are designed to achieve maximum profits by employing minimal safety constraints.

        1. How about citing some peer reviewed studies supporting your claims. Which vaccines? What’s the ratio of deaths or maiming to vaccinations? One must always evaluate risks vs benefits. Aspirin can also kill people. Driving can too.

          1. if you are really interested in finding the truth, it is not easy because Pharma through a web of monetary support to research institutions and journals has rigged the whole shooting box, it’s corrupted at points of control, financially, a page from the book of Big Tobacco.

            If you are really interested in studying the contrary science, then Children’s Health Defence is a good starting place, they have amassed many papers and articles surrounding such, of course Pharma produces fake counter studies and seed anti-fact-checkers and media sources in an attempt to discredit and nullify these conclusions.

            One study that touched me deeply was an investigation into the Indian polio program conducted by GAVI. It showed that the vaccine had caused polio in nearly half a million Indian children, many more than the wild virus was expected to cause during the same time period.
            doi: 10.3390/ijerph15081755

            DTP increases mortality in girls doi: 10.1093/trstmh/trw073

            DTP may kill more than it saves doi: 10.1016/j.ebiom.2017.01.041. Epub 2017 Feb 1.

            Neil Z. Miller. Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, Summer 2016.
            ”“Our study showed that infants who receive several vaccines concurrently, as recommended by CDC, are significantly more likely to be hospitalized or die when compared with infants who receive fewer vaccines simultaneously. It also showed that reported adverse effects were more likely to lead to hospitalization or death in younger infants. The safety of CDC’s childhood vaccination schedule was never affirmed in clinical studies. Vaccines are administered to millions of infants every year, yet health authorities have no scientific data from synergistic toxicity studies on all combinations of vaccines that infants are likely to receive. National vaccination campaigns must be supported by scientific evidence.”’

            ‘Israeli and Italian scientists warn that vaccine adjuvants (aluminum) are causing a wide-range of autoimmune conditions, including Sjogren’s Syndrome.’
            The Israel Medical Association Journal. 2016;18(3-4):150-153.

            ‘Researchers found that febrile seizures occurred in roughly one in every 1,000 children who were given the MMR vaccine and two genetic variants came to light that pointed to a higher risk of a febrile seizure in the second week following MMR vaccination.”
            According to parents, febrile seizures nearly always precede autistic inversion.
            Nature Genetics 46, 1274-1282; 26 October, 2014.

            Some others that interest me
            BMJ 2018;362:k3694
            Clinical Pediatrics. 2018;57(5):603-606

            There are several pages of them here.

  9. Refusing to consider the damage that vaccines do is an old tactic of the tobacco industry. Pretending that we either have to accept 100% of all vaccines and pay the billions for all damages or refuse all vaccines is illogical. We have no requirement to accept the vaccines that cause harm to us and do little good. We should be able to choose whether they are individually worthwhile.
    John S
    PDX OR

    1. Nobody forces us to receive a vaccine. We are perfectly free to pick and choose.

      Isn’t that precisely why measles are back?

      By the way, which are the vaccines that you say do harm and little good? Even flu vaccines, the onnes about which I have the biggest reservations, appear to save thousands of lives with relatively few adverse effects.

      1. Fumbles, Regarding your comment: “Nobody forces us to receive a vaccine. We are perfectly free to pick and choose.”

        Have you heard about this:

        “Virginia’s Health Commissioner says he plans to mandate that all Virginians take a COVID-19 vaccine once one is available to the public.
        Virginia state law gives the Commissioner of Health “the authority to mandate immediate immunizations during a public health crisis if a vaccine is available. Health officials say an immunization could be released as early as 2021,” 8News said. “Dr. Oliver says that, as long as he is still the Health Commissioner, he intends to mandate the coronavirus vaccine.”

        I don’t know if this violates the Constitution of the USA, but I’m sure there will be law suits and probably even all the way up to the Supreme Court.

      2. With the nonsense around Covid our freedom to pick and choose is evaporating faster than a snowflake on a hotplate.

        Forbes like many news sources are compelled to put the blame on ant-vaxers for disease outbreaks. The day has come when you MUST fact-check the fact-checkers if you want the truth. The truth about that article is that genomic sequencing has shown up to 38% of measles outbreaks in a given year were caused by the attenuated virus strain in the vaccine, yet vaccine contrarians are demonized and blamed for it.

        Flu vaccines are actually very ineffectual, the truth is they can make the recipient more susceptible to respiratory diseases, which are in fact the actual killer anyway and not the influenza. For every year you receive a flu-shot the accumulated effectiveness drops such that by the 10th year it falls to around 7%, and considering you are then at that point likely to be more susceptible to pneumonia, any benefit is faintly obvious.

        I challenge you to pop your head down the rabbit hole and have a good look at what lies beneath the surface, and considering where humanity stands at this juncture, it could save your life.
        Watch this in its entirely with an open mind and then ask yourself, “Do these people really care about my health and well being, like Dr Greger does, or….?”

  10. I would recommend that Dr. Greger review the research conducted by Dr. Hernan Gomez and other experts in pediatric lead exposure regarding the mean blood lead levels of children in Flint.

    While what happened in Flint is not excusable and a failure of government, the overall blood lead levels of children there have declined by 72% from 2006-2016, with a similar spike in levels occurring in 2010-11. This is far from what the experts would call a lead “poisoning” event.

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