Suffer little children to come unto me….: Gospel according to St. Luke
In Brazil it is caused by the mosquito. In Flint it is caused by the politician. The one is not completely understood. The other is understood all too well. Both have inflicted untold harm on their victims and brought great sadness to them and their families. The victims are the children and parents whose lives have been altered in profound ways and no amount of science or money can compensate the children and parents for what they have lost. The effect on the children in Brazil is apparent as soon as they are born. The effect on children in Flint may not be known for years to come.
In Brazil it is believed that there may be as many as 1.5 million residents infected with the Zika virus. In Flint it is an untold number of children who may have their development impaired because of lead poisoning.
Brazilian babies with microcephaly from the Zika virus may have, among other things, abnormally small heads and their brains may have failed to develop properly. The difficulties these children may face include developmental delays, intellectual deficits or hearing loss. Birth defects suffered by Brazilian children are apparent for all to see as their parents are shown on the evening news holding their tiny malformed infants tenderly, not knowing what the future holds for them, their pitifully deformed infants and other members of their families. Zika families do not wonder what they or anyone else could have done to prevent the tragedy that has befallen them. It is just one of those things. Flint is very different but the affected population is the same.
Young children living in Flint are not in danger of suffering microcephaly nor any of the other consequences of the innocently malevolent mosquito. They are, instead, in danger of other developmental issues that may not manifest themselves for years to come. According to reports, as many as 8,000 Flint children under age 6 may have been exposed to lead in Flint’s water. That exposure may have done irreparable damage to some of their nervous systems and brains. The children who have suffered the effects of exposure to lead may require extra help in school because of learning disabilities and may require treatment for medical problems that can go on for years. Fetuses and young children are especially vulnerable to the effects of lead in the water. No one could have done anything about the mosquito. Lots of people could have done something about the water.
In 2014 when Flint’s emergency manager began providing water to residents from Flint River to save money, residents detected changes in the taste, smell and color of the water. High levels of bacteria were discovered and city officials told residents to boil their water before drinking it. When residents complained about water quality to state officials, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s people and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality ignored their complaints. Even after state officials knew there was a problem they did nothing. Lynna Kaucheck, a Food and Water Watch organizer said: “It’s hard to believe that in 2016 people in the United States have to contend with poisoned drinking water, but that’s the sad situation that many Flint residents are contending with. . . . [S]ome residents continue to receive water that is undrinkable, due to lead contamination.” It has now been reported that in January 2015 fresh bottled water was provided for state employees working in office buildings in Flint even though residents had been told Flint tap water was safe to drink. A spokesman for the agency that manages state buildings said the bottled water was introduced after Flint failed to pass tests of water standards having nothing to do with lead in the water. In Michigan some Flint residents have begun a class action law suit against the government alleging that the “City has failed to provide drinkable water to Plaintiffs from April 2014 to present.” No one knows how that suit will end many years from now.
In Brazil the sadness brought to the families was brought by the mosquito. In Flint it was brought by the politicians. The one is not completely understood. The other is understood all too well. Both have inflicted untold harm on their victims. The mosquito has not apologized. Michigan’s governor has. Neither the apology nor the lack of an apology makes the tiniest bit of difference to those affected. They are the children and parents whose lives have been altered in profound ways and no amount of science or money can compensate the children and parents for what they have lost.
Christopher Brauchli is a columnist and lawyer known nationally for his work. He is a graduate of Harvard University and the University of Colorado School of Law where he served on the Board of Editors of the Rocky Mountain Law Review.