New study shows the Flint water crisis impacted fertility and fetal deaths in the city

New study shows the Flint water crisis impacted fertility and fetal deaths in the city
A March 21, 2016 file photo shows the Flint Water Plant water tower in Flint, Michigan. Carlos Osorio/AP
A March 21, 2016 file photo shows the Flint Water Plant water tower in Flint, Michigan. Carlos Osorio/AP

Recent research indicates fertility rates dropped and fetal death rates rose in Flint, Michigan, after the city began sourcing water from the polluted Flint River, exposing residents to high levels of lead from pipes which were corroded by the contaminated water. The data may indicate that the entire scope of the destructive effects of Flint’s lead-contaminated water is still not fully understood.

The paper — from researchers Daniel Grossman of West Virginia University and David Slusky of Kansas University — examined some stark changes in data from Flint beginning in April 2014, when the city switched to water from the Flint River in an effort to cut costs.

That water was later found to be 19 times more corrosive than Detroit water, which resulted in lead leeching from pipes and solder, making the water unsafe for both cooking and drinking. As the Detroit Free Press reported on Wednesday, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder didn’t admit there was an issue with the water in Flint until Sept. 2015.

A Jan. 26, 2016, file photo shows a sign over the Flint River in Flint, Michigan.
A Jan. 26, 2016, file photo shows a sign over the Flint River in Flint, Michigan. Carlos Osorio/AP

According to this new research, after the switch in water sources, fertility rates dropped by 12% among women in Flint and fetal death rates rose by 58% — an increase that the paper’s authors called “horrifyingly large.”

Researchers compared the statistics in Flint to nearby large cities in Michigan to ensure that the drop in fertility wasn’t part of a larger factor, Slusky told the Detroit Free Press.

What they found was that the numbers changed dramatically in Flint — and stayed the same everywhere else. “Flint’s numbers fell off a cliff, and the rest of the cities stayed pretty much constant” after April 2014, Slusky told the Detroit Free Press, adding, “We weren’t particularly surprised by this, but we didn’t expect it be as clean and clear as it was.”

According to the researchers, past studies have linked maternal lead exposure to fetal death as well as “prenatal growth abnormalities, reduced gestational period, and reduced birth weight.”

In a Feb. 5, 2016 file photo, volunteers load a vehicle with bottled water at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, in Flint, Michigan.
In a Feb. 5, 2016 file photo, volunteers load a vehicle with bottled water at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, in Flint, Michigan. Carlos Osorio/AP

In Flint, what they found in the period after the April 2014 water-source switch was what the authors called a “culling of the least healthy fetuses.” According to the study’s authors, the numbers showed that “either Flint residents were unable to conceive children, or women were having more miscarriages during this time,” Slusky told the Detroit Free Press.

According to Slusky, the new research hasn’t yet undergone peer review by other scientists, but the numbers are striking — and, he said, they speak to the ways in which the Flint water crisis represents a government failure.

Fifteen Michigan officials have been indicted on criminal charges in connection to their roles in the Flint water crisis — one of them, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services director Nick Lyon, appeared in court Thursday and Friday for a preliminary hearing. He is facing charges of involuntary manslaughter and misconduct in office.