Flint water crisis hits closer to home than thought


St. Louis is nothing compared to Flint, Mich. unless we take into account that Forbes ranked  their city in first regarding violence and we are just fourth. Or perhaps that Forbes listed our unemployment rates and job growth levels too close for comfort; 148,771 people in St. Louis are jobless. Unfortunately, it is not just the guns and fast cash, but the high levels of lead, specifically within our city’s black communities that make us similar.

With displays of dirty water bottles signifying Flint’s “human rights violations” on Webster’s campus, I was interested to see if we had any similar problems to solve. Surely, nothing could be worse than poisoning our own kids, right?

According to the Center for Disease and Control (CDC), St. Louis has one of the highest rates of childhood lead poisoning in the state and country. Ninety percent of the city was built before 1970, which was the year lead-based paint was banned nationwide. Regardless of the city’s efforts to eradicate lead in homes, the 2012 Annual Report for the MO Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program declared 1,727 children tested over the unacceptable limit of five mcg/deciliter, including one child with 70 mcg/deciliter.  This is outrageous. When I say unacceptable lead levels, I’m saying these children are poisoned. The big deal? These levels do not only cause a loss in IQ points, which helps in decision making and other necessary skills, but these children are also more prone to violent behavior from the very beginning.

They are all younger than seven years old.

GRAPHIC BY: Amber Williams
GRAPHIC BY: Amber Williams

According to the National Center for Healthy Housing, shortages in cognitive and academic skills associated with lead exposure occur at blood lead concentrations lower than five mcg/deciliter. Lower than five mcg/deciliter? That’s 12,238 children that are suffering without even being considered ‘poisoned’. So basically, these children have two factors against them: their ‘environment’ (lifestyles and people) and literally, their environment (the physical paint on all the walls). Even if we eliminate ‘bad neighborhoods’, these children are still in jeopardy.

A 2003 report by the New England Journal of Medicine reports a loss of seven IQ points in children with lead levels under 10 mcg/deciliter. Studies show that “at levels as low as one to three mcg/deciliter, lead reduces children’s IQ, diminishes math and reading skills and changes behavior for the worse.”

Last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) started inspecting “low-income neighborhoods” with old housings, according to St. Louis Public Radio. Specifically, zip codes: 63113, 63118, 63107, 63147 and 63120. Neighborhoods such as The Ville, North of the Riverfront, Benton Park and areas from South Broadway to South Tower Grove. That’s more than 11,470 people in danger of lead contamination.

Children, regardless of race, color and creed, are our future. As Webster students and young adults, we hold the honorary position of being able to change and prevent the unnecessary. Throughout our recent years as a student body, we have held demonstrations for black lives and transgender lives. With Flint’s water situation being noticed on campus grounds, I think it is time to start focusing on our children’s lives. Save the children of St. Lead, better known as St. Louis.

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