On our first day as medical students, we took the Osteopathic Oath. At the time, it felt almost surreal, but we knew it was important. One line in particular stood out: “I will be ever vigilant in aiding in the general welfare of the community”.
The Flint water crisis is a Michigan story we have all become too familiar with in the past year. In a cost-cutting effort, Flint’s water supply was changed, from treated water from Detroit’s utility to Flint River water, which was not properly treated with corrosion control. The result was so destructive that General Motors stopped using the water in its manufacturing, yet, was still, incorrectly, deemed safe for human consumption. Some 6,000 children in Flint have now been exposed to lead, and the city has been in a state of emergency.
Across the country, 33 cities in 17 states have been using water-testing shortcuts, not unlike those used in Flint, which may be concealing unsafe levels of lead. The health concerns are so widespread that there are an estimated 800,000 children with elevated lead levels in this country, yet only 10 percent of all children are tested.
Perhaps it was our backgrounds working in community health that gave us the idea, but the oath we took gave us a sense of responsibility; something had to be done.
We began to plan, putting together several policy positions that would help prevent a similar crisis, and reaching out to other medical students for their support. The response was overwhelming, with over 10 percent of the state’s medical students, 400 of us representing all seven of Michigan’s medical schools, coming together for the people of Flint.
As a collective voice, we have proposed the following:
1. The passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act Improved Compliance Awareness Act by the U.S. Congress, which is currently in the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. This law would require the EPA to notify the public within 24 hours of a drinking water violation, in addition to forming a plan for targeted outreach to communities, and state and federal water regulators.
2. A review of the EPA’s current Lead and Copper Rule provisions as it relates to the Flint crisis, as well as a clear statement from the federal, state and local government on their roles and responsibilities concerning these provisions, which should include requirements for rigorous testing and modeling of water when switching to a new water source.
3. Increased and expanded access to childhood lead testing and the establishment of an educational assistance fund for children with permanent mental deficiencies resulting from lead poisoning.
As future physicians, it is our duty to stand up for those in our community, and we ask you stand with the people of Flint, and all those who have been affected by toxic drinking water.
(Co-signed by 400 Michigan medical students.)