Sunday Reflections: Thinking About Flint
When you reach the number 10, that’s when the county health department sends you a letter letting you know that your child has high levels of lead in their blood.
At least, that’s what happens when you live in a county that is not trying to cover up for a government that is willing to throw it’s children under the bus in order to save about a hundred dollars a week.
My letter came in 2005. The Teen was then 3 years old. I had no idea at the time that they regularly tested infants and toddlers for lead. I had no idea that it was something for me to be concerned about.
At the time we lived in an Ohio County which was declared the highest poverty county in all of Ohio. Out of 88 counties, we had the distinguished honor of having the most poverty. There are a lot of horrible things that coincide with poverty: failing schools, higher crime and drug use, and a failing infrastructure that puts the health and safety of everyone at risk. There are immediate and long term consequences to poverty.
That’s another thing you should know about lead poisoning: it’s more prevalent in areas with higher poverty. Areas like Flint, Michigan.
As I was reading this week about Flint, I was introduced to a new term: Environmental Racism. Many articles I read this week referred to the Flint crisis as an example of environmental racism. The New York Times said this:
Coined in the 1980s, the term refers to the disproportionate exposure of blacks to polluted air, water and soil. It is considered the result of poverty and segregation that has relegated many blacks and other racial minorities to some of the most industrialized or dilapidated environments.
Although I am very familiar with the many discussions of racism that we are having in our country, I am ashamed to admit that the concept of environmental racism was new to me.
I have been thinking and reading about Flint a lot this past week. Because here’s what happens when you find out that your child has high levels of lead . . . First, you panic. You have to find the cause. Then you have to address the cause, which is usually very expensive and, in the case of Flint, far outside an individual’s reach. Then you worry. Not normal every day worry, but tremendous amounts of daily stress because your baby, this child that you love and pray for every day, now has a toxic substance coursing through their veins that can change the very course of their life. It can cause life long neurological, behavioral and cognitive issues. It is, in fact, a big freaking deal.
For us, there was the involvement of the local county health department. There were investigations into the source. There were discussions of how to properly address the source. There was a change of diet to help the body naturally chelate the lead. And there were a lot of follow up tests to check that her lead level was going down and that it didn’t have a negative impact on her health. Taking care of her high lead issue was costly in terms of both time and money, something we were only able to navigate because we had a lot of help from family and friends.
The people of Flint may not have gotten any of that because their government was trying to cover the whole thing up. The people of Flint have been denied every thing they need in order to have life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They were lied to by their government, a government I understand that may have illegally been put in place under the guise of emergency management.
For years, we watched our child closely to see if we could see any health effects. We worried incessantly. We prayed fervently. The next year she had another health crisis – Kawasaki Disease – that also can present with long term health effects. For the record, she seems to have none, thankfully. But I can not stress enough the anguish we felt as parents as we navigated this crisis. The fear, the anxiety, and yes, the guilt. The sleepless nights, the tears, and the just raw begging we put out into the universe asking please let our baby be safe and healthy. There was a desperation that I can not even begin to describe that gripped my maternal heart the day that letter came from the health department.
This week when I have been reading about the crisis in Flint all I can do is remember how I felt as a parent when I found out my own child had lead, just the tremendous worry and concern I had for my child’s immediate and long term health. And I am so angry for those parents in Flint. Their government, the people who are supposed to serve them and their best interests, put their children’s health and entire future at risk. Many of those children will now have a different life path because the people in government lied and covered up their actions.
This has got to be a tipping point where we as a nation say ENOUGH! Our children, our people, are not acceptable collateral damage to your power plays and selfish ways. Sadly, I fear that it isn’t. An entire city is dying, a generation of children have been poisoned, and I fear that we have not yet reached the point where we demand better of each other. But if this isn’t that point, then what is? I fear I don’t want to know the answer to that question.
The children of Flint deserve better.
Filed under: Sunday Reflections
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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