For the past three months, the Family Fun Night at Freeman Elementary School in Flint, Michigan, has been anything but fun.
Instead taking part in a lighthearted evening filled with face-painting and food, terrified parents have been bringing their children there for lead testing after locals learned clean water has not flowed through the tap in nearly two years, according to the Associated Press.
“It really is a scary situation to know that we can’t get clean drinking water,” Sherri Miller, who brought her first-grade son, Jameer, to have a finger-prick blood sample tested, told the news outlet. “It really is scary to think someone knew about this and did nothing.
On Saturday, President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in Michigan and ordered federal aid for state and local response efforts in Flint, according to Reuters.
A day later, Cher pledged to send more than 180,000 bottles of clean water to the city.
On Monday, Eden Wells, the state’s chief medical executive, said that all children who drank the city’s water since April 2014 have been exposed, the Detroit Free Press reports.
The city’s drinking water issues reportedly began that same month when Flint switched from using Detroit’s water system – which pumps water out of Lake Huron – to its own treatment plant, which drew water from the Flint River. Based on a Detroit Free Press analysis of Census data, every child in Flint under the age of six – 8,657 in total – should be considered exposed to lead.
“It has such damning, lifelong and generational consequences,” Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, director of pediatric residency at Hurley Children’s Hospital, where more than 2,000 children have been tested, told the AP.
Hanna-Attisha, who is credited with bringing this issue to the public s attention, says “it was frustrating that it went on for so long” and that “everything has been slow.”
Gov. Rick Snyder has apologized for the consequences of switching the water system and pledged that officials would contact every household to ensure families have bottled water and a filter to check for lead exposure.
But residents are still angry for the past and the little that has changed.
“The state was telling everybody, ‘It’s fine, relax. … It’s safe,'” even as people complained that the water looked cloudy and tasted bad, community activist Melissa Mays told the Associated Press. “They lied.”
Mays, who has leukemia, has to take medication along with her husband and three sons ages 11, 12 and 17, to reduce high lead and other heavy metals in her blood.
“Like everybody else, we drank and cooked with it because they told us it was safe,” says Mays.
Another Flint resident, Rabecka Cordell, was told by a doctor that she and her 5-year-old son, Dayne, have lead poisoning.
“It’s ridiculous,” she says.