A new study shows a major spike in miscarriages.
When the city of Flint, Michigan, temporarily switched its water source to the Flint River in 2014, it didn’t treat the water properly. The untreated river water corroded pipes, allowing lead to leach into the water. Tests found lead levels in the region’s water to be higher than that of hazardous waste, but the city failed to warn residents of the danger for months. State officials are now facing criminal charges for their role.
The devastating health consequences of this lapse are now becoming clear. A recent paper finds that the city’s lead crisis may have sparked a drop in birth rates and a precipitous rise in miscarriages. For the working paper, Daniel Grossman from West Virginia University and David Slusky from the University of Kansas compared fertility rates in Flint to those in other Michigan cities before and after Flint changed its water source in 2014.
They found that fertility, or the birth rate, declined by 12 percent among Flint women, and the fetal death rate increased by 58 percent. The authors describe the difference as “horrifyingly large,” but say it’s also an undercount, because it doesn’t include miscarriages that happened before the 20th week of gestation, which is when most hospitals start counting. It did not appear that women were worried about the lead and opting not to have kids—sadly, it seemed more likely that they weren’t aware of the lead threat.