Thursday, May 23, 2024

Flint is just the tip of the iceberg

Flint residents pick up free bottled water offered. (Image: Michigan State Police Emergency Mgmt. via Flickr)
Flint residents pick up free bottled water offered. (Image: Michigan State Police Emergency Mgmt. via Flickr)

What lead is doing to urban cities

By Nicole James Scott, NDG Contributing Writer

The water crisis in Flint turned the country’s attention to Michigan. Not only were the citizens and community leaders of Flint outraged but Americans at large.  The story has left everyone to ask the question why?  Why something like this could occur, not in Haiti, Nepal or Burundi, but America, the world’s second wealthiest country on the planet?

The truth of the matter, Flint is not an isolated case.  What the country is witnessing with the residents of Flint is not unique or unprecedented. Flint, like many other urban cities throughout the U.S. is the collateral damage that occurs when unbridled capitalism intersects with a loss in democracy. In order to get a comprehensive understanding of how and why a city’s entire populace can be poisoned it is essential to dissect the root cause of this growing epidemic.


As far back as the 1800s it was well known that the use of lead pipes for drinking water caused lead poisoning . In 1859, a series of articles included corroboration from engineers, public health officials and physicians, was published documenting the toxic danger of the use of lead pipes to transport water.  By the 1920’s cities throughout the U.S. had begun restricting the use of lead pipes. Government officials concluded the health risks undoubtedly outweighed any benefits associated with the use of lead pipes and enacted health codes prohibiting the use of lead pipes.

So how does the lead industry respond?  The same manner in which the cigarette, alcohol, oil and other big industries did when faced with the prospect of losing untold profit–launch a propaganda campaign.

The Lead Industries Association (LIA) sent representatives to speak with plumbers’ organizations, architects, federal officials and local water authorities to convince them the use of lead pipes was not only healthy but also more efficient as the longevity of lead is exceedingly greater. They produced a series of literature and books promoting the use of lead and lead pipes, even launched an independent investigation to disprove the widespread belief that lead in and of itself causes danger. Their focus was on the “proper” use of lead and promoted the idea that the evidence wasn’t conclusive.

The LIA also made generous donations to the Plumbing and Heating Industries Bureau, enlisting them as a strong ally in their propaganda campaign, and it worked. Cities began to re-write their plumbing codes and the sale of lead pipes began to revive.

In the 1940’s public concern surrounding the hazards of using lead pipes began to resurface. In 1959 a tenant in an apartment building in Milwaukee sued the owner for $200,000 in damages over lead poisoning resulting from the use of lead service pipes. The LIA worked with the defendant in this case as it invoked great concern as to the long-reaching implications it could have on the lead industry. Meeting records from one of the LIA show the secretary stating the following:

“Success of a suit like this could well mean the end of lead services not only in Milwaukee, but in Chicago and many another city, amounting to thousands of tons of lead a year.”

The tenacious efforts by the LIA are evident not only by the continued use but also the requirement of lead pipes, especially in commercial and federal buildings, long after its dangers were well known.

Even after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention set acceptable blood lead levels for children in the 1960’s lead poisoning has persisted But it’s not solely due to lead pipes. Lead poisoning can result from a number of causes, including contaminated soil, lead paint, and emission of lead in the atomosphere.  Unfortunate for residents, particulary African-American, in the greater Dallas area they are at risk on all fronts.

With the establishment of lead smeltering companies RSR Metals (formerly Soutern Lead) in West Dallas, Dixie Metals in South Dallas, later owned by Exide Battery and currently by National Lead, lower income and primarily African-American communities have been most affected by lead poisoning. In 2011 West Dallas families were still fighting to receive the medical treatment promised to them in a court decision that came about as the result of a lawsuit against the aforementioned RSR in 1983. Contamination of the soil, as well as air, resulted in lead levels as high as 20.1 µg/dL in children that were tested. According to the CDC in 1985 25 µg/dL should be a cause for concern.

In 1991 it was dropped to 10 μg/dL, however, recent data indicates even lower concentrations than this can have irreversible damage in young children, including a decrease in IQ. The fact remains lead serves no useful purpose in the body and there have been numerous studies exposing its harmful effects.



In spite of public outcry the Dallas City Council moved forward and voted in favor to add Hydrofluorosilicic Acid (HFS) to the drinking water. Council members were warned of the dangers of HFS, the potential adverse effects it could have on residents as it is highly contaminated with toxins including lead and the fact that African-Americans are at the greatest risk leading with higher lead levels than their White and Hispanic counterparts.



Hydrofluorosilicic Acid (HSF) is an industrial chemical. It is the diluted version of fluorosilicic acid, which is a waste product of fertilizer manufacturing companies such as Cargill and CF Industries.  HSF is created during the process of converting phosphate rock into soluble fertilizer.  In the past this lethal toxin was being released into the air during this process, which posed an environmental hazard.  As a result of government intervention fertilizer companies are now permitted to trap the chemical before it is released into the air, house it in containers, which they then sell to water departments throughout the country as a source of water fluoridation, and it’s quite costly.



Research dating as far back to the 1900’s, shows a correlation between high lead levels and violent crime. In 2000 Rick Nevin, a Senior Economist with ICF International wrote a paper documenting the rise and fall in violent crime, showing the direct link to increase and decrease in lead consumption. Two years later Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh, Herbert Needleman also wrote a paper highlighting the cause and effect of lead to violent crime. A simple online search of lead levels and violent crime will yield hundreds of articles on the subject. The suspicion that exaggerated levels of lead in the blood could be the root cause of violent crime is not far fetched.

When the story of the Flint water crisis first broke, the pediatrician who was instrumental in bringing it to light was Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha. She shared, “If you were to put something in a population to keep them down for generations and generations to come, it would be lead. It’s a well-known, potent neurotoxin. There’s tons of evidence on what lead does to a child, and it is one of the most damning things that you can do to a population. It drops your IQ, it affects your behavior, it’s been linked to criminality, it has multi-generational impacts. There is no safe level of lead in a child.”

Perhaps the citizens of the Dallas-Ft. Worth area should ask their elected officials why?


  1. The Fluoride Action Network website has information on the link between the silicofluoride chemicals which are dumped into public water supplies and lead poisoning.

  2. HFSA is not only contaminated with lead, arsenic, and other pollutants, HFSA leaches lead out of pipes into water, even when appropriate buffering chemicals are added to try to the water in a clumsy attempt to balance the pH.


    Masters RD, Coplan MJ, Hone BT, Dykes JE. Association of silicofluoride treated water with elevated blood lead. Neurotoxicology. 2000 Dec;21(6):1091-100.

    Masters R.D., Coplan M.J. Water Treatment with Silicofluorides and Lead Toxicity. Intern. J. Environ. Studies 56: 435-449 1999.

    Coplan MJ, Patch SC, Masters RD, Bachman MS. Confirmation of and explanations for elevated blood lead and other disorders in children exposed to water disinfection and fluoridation chemicals. Neurotoxicology. 2007 Sep;28(5):1032-42. 

    Maas RP, Patch SC, Christian AM, Coplan MJ. Effects of fluoridation and disinfection agent combinations on lead leaching from leaded-brass parts. Neurotoxicology. 2007 Sep;28(5):1023-31. Epub 2007 Jun 30.  

    Sawan RM, et al. Fluoride increases lead concentrations in whole blood and in calcified tissues from lead-exposed rats. Toxicology. 2010 Apr 30;271(1-2):21-6. Epub 2010 Feb 25.


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