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Resettlement of the children of Flint "needs to be on the table," argues Irwin Redlener.  (Photo: Joe Brusky/flickr/cc)

To Protect Flint's Children, Get Them Out of There

Public health expert argues for temporary resettlement to protect children from further risk of poisoning

Andrea Germanos

As the Rust Belt city's water crisis continues, one public health expert is stressing that "the children of Flint remain in harm's way"—and suggests that the best response at the moment may be to consider temporary resettlement of the families affected.

Irwin Redlener, president and co-founder of Children's Health Fund, a professor at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, and director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness makes the argument in an op-ed published Wednesday at the Washington Post.

He acknowledges the task would be "unprecedented and complex" but states that doing so "needs to be on the table," as some "some 9,000 young children may have been exposed to contaminated water" already. And because "lead is still leaching into the drinking water from corroded pipes, and we can't be certain that the widely distributed hardware store water filters, which need to be installed properly and replaced on schedule, will reliably keep the water safe," parents have no certainty that their children will be spared exposure to the poison.

Redlener suggest two things happen to make the community safe for children. Securing sufficient emergency funding to swiftly repair the damaged infrastructure is necessary, he writes. In addition, providing comprehensive health, education, and other support services for "every family with a potentially lead-affected child" is needed because "nobody can be certain that continued exposure to lead will not be a problem until all of the damaged pipes are replaced."

Until those things happen, "every additional day in a home with lead-contaminated water puts a young child at further risk," he writes.

Among those who is able to leave town is Flint native Ariana Hawk and her family. Hawk's three-year-old son became the face of the water crisis when he appeared on the cover of TIME magazine in January.

"I'm just getting impatient with using bottled water and stuff," she told the Detroit Free Press. "It's just frustrating. … I can't do it."

Redlener's call for resettlement comes as liberal groups arrive in Lansing to deliver nearly one million signatures calling on Gov. Rick Snyder to resign over his role in the water crisis, and as he and Flint Mayor Karen Weaver spar over the approach and speed to replacing the city's lead pipes. 


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