Questions for ‘Health problems persist in Flint 10 years after water poisoning’ 

a photo of a person walking along the Flint River in downtown Flint Michigan

The Flint River flows near downtown Flint, Mich. The city started using the river for drinking water in 2014. That move led to a series of events that exposed many local people to high levels of lead for more than a year. Even with cleaner water now available, locals still face health problems and fears.

Seth Herald/AFP/Getty Images News

To accompany Health problems persist in Flint 10 years after water poisoning  


Before Reading:

  1. In 2007, a meteor impact in Peru revealed high levels of arsenic in the regional groundwater. Arsenic is a toxic heavy metal and has been linked to both short- and long-term health issues. Peru is a developing country, and the affected region consists mainly of small rural villages. The region’s arsenic derives from natural sources, so this problem has likely gone undetected for a long time. Imagine if the affected area had been in the U.S. or another more developed country. Do you think the problem would have been caught sooner, later or at about the same time? Explain how you arrived at your answer.
  2. Imagine you learned that your city’s tap water, which you’ve been drinking your whole life, contained a toxic substance linked to lifelong mental health problems. Describe how you might feel suddenly learning of this problem. Imagine that you had complained to local officials about a weird taste in the water in the past, but they dismissed your concerns. To what extent would this change the way you trust your local leaders? Explain your answer.

During Reading:

  1. List three mental health-related problems that have surfaced in the town of Flint, Mich., since the city water source was switched to the Flint River.
  2. Until what year were lead pipes widely used for building homes in the U.S.?
  3. What did the National Guard bring to Melodie Marsh’s home in 2016?
  4. What fraction of the residents of Flint, Mich., lived in poverty in 2011?
  5. How did money play a role in the decision to switch the city of Flint from Detroit-based water supplies to pumping water from the Flint River? What date did this change occur?
  6. The city of Flint’s water-treatment plant couldn’t properly clean the river’s polluted water. What problem did this cause regarding the city’s water pipes? How did this result in high levels of lead in people’s tap water?
  7. Describe two observations people made regarding changes in their water quality. Describe two health-related issues that appeared around this same time.
  8. When people complained about the water quality, what did the government officials initially advise the people to do? To what extent did this address the problem?
  9. To which organ in the body is lead poisoning best known for causing damage?
  10. How did rates of high blood-lead levels in Flint’s young children in 2015 compare with rates in 2013?
  11. Describe one physical problem suffered by Flint residents as a result of this public health crisis. 
  12. What does an epidemiologist study?
  13. Nicole Jones and her team compared rates of anxiety and depression in Flint’s children and teens with rates nationwide. How did the rates of anxiety compare with rates nationwide? How did rates of depression compare?
  14. To what extent were residents of Flint offered mental health services to deal with their concerns?

After Reading:

  1. Studies show that high blood-lead levels can affect neurological development and lower the average IQ. Based on your reading, what age group is most impacted and why? Give two specific examples of how the public health crisis described in this story might alter crucial stages of an individual’s life.
  2. Lead-linked health problems emerge more often in communities with higher poverty rates than in higher-income ones. This story is one such example, but it only describes a 10-year period during and after the crisis. Consider how undetected threats to public health could play out over the longer term. How might the health problem described in this story contribute to a self-perpetuating cycle? In other words, how might the effects of this kind of public health threat worsen the poverty levels over time? How might greater poverty levels, in turn, worsen the lead-linked health problems? What does this tell us about the value of protecting our most vulnerable communities?
  3. This story focuses on studies carried out in the U.S. To what extent do you predict other parts of the world suffer similar problems? What countries or regions might be at high risk for undetected or unaddressed lead-related health issues? Use information from this story to explain how you arrived at your prediction.