Future doctors push for water policy changes

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.)

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Sun, 10/30/2016 - 10:56am
Is there anything stopping any given community from requiring their water system meet a higher standard of purity than does the state? If a community wants purity to an extreme absolute level let them go (and pay) for it! Residents can make their decisions from there.
Barry Visel
Sun, 10/30/2016 - 12:06pm
In addition to your point, Matt, can anyone point me to the section in the US Constitution that gives the Federal government the right to be involved?
Mon, 10/31/2016 - 7:39am
That would be article 13 right next to the dept of Ed, dept of energy and Obamacare.
Michigan Observer
Sun, 10/30/2016 - 5:24pm
The authors say, "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." It would have been helpful if they had set forth the nature of those "water-testing shortcuts". Just what were those shortcuts? Small sample sizes? Insufficient testing frequency? Unqualified personnel? And just what was the nature of Flint's "water-testing shortcuts"? And how do Flint's testing failures resemble those of the 33 cities? I recall that a technician with insufficient statistical training misinterpreted a quality control chart, but unless I am mistaken (and I may be), that was in connection with legionnaires' disease. MDEQ was guilty of two principal failures. They failed to make the connection between GM's manufacturing problems and the effect of Flint river water on Flint's water supply system. And they failed to choose the low-risk policy of requiring corrosion control immediately rather than after running two separate six month tests of Flint river water as they mistakenly interpreted the EPA's Lead and Copper rule as allowing. The authors are, however, on solid ground with their recommendations set forth in paragraph two of their proposals.
Thu, 11/03/2016 - 1:51pm
For decades, the Detroit Water & Sewer Department has been managed by corrupt and inept Detroit and tri-county politicians concerned primarily with re-election, rather than the important issues facing the Detroit Metropolitan area. Politicians in southeast Michigan (Detroit and the tri-county area) have long refused to address water issues by placing blame on one another, rather than working together to solving the problems. Costly numerous studies of the problems and solutions to fix them have all been for naught as the blame game continues and nothing gets done! Concern with re-election takes precedence over focused co-operation to agree upon a "fix" and ways to fund it. How many more Flint Crisis-like headlines will we see before something, anything, gets done?