Lead-free food a daily challenge in Flint

March 6, 2016

The United States is known for trends like fat-free and gluten-free diets, but residents in Flint, Michigan are struggling with a much more serious concern: how to keep food lead-free.

For more than a year, the drinking water in this impoverished former manufacturing hub has been contaminated with lead, after water from the polluted Flint River caused pipes to become corroded.

Staying healthy amid the contamination has proven difficult, with simple, daily tasks like washing vegetables or rinsing a pot able to cause lead exposure.

The crisis, which was first ignored and then hushed up by government officials, is sure to be a key topic during a debate in Flint on Sunday between Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.


In the contamination's wake, many Flint residents have been diagnosed with lead poisoning and more than 8,000 children have been reported exposed to lead, a harrowing statistic since it can irreversibly harm brain development.

Replacing all the corroded pipes could take years and residents are unsure when they can expect their water to be safe again.

Authorities are distributing vast quantities of bottled water, an operation that involves National Guard soldiers and hundreds of volunteers. They have also given away 108,000 water filters.

Most residents say they don't trust the filters, after being burned by authorities who had falsely assured the public that the was safe until the contamination was exposed by citizen activists.

"I am afraid of this water. I do everything with these bottles of water. I don't want to die," said Robert Cmejrek, a 72-year-old retiree.

Chia Morgan, a social worker and mother, said she uses about 10 bottles of water to cook a meal.

"You always have to go and make sure you have bottles of water in the house, it's no longer a pleasure."

Families are facing a logistical challenge to constantly buy, transport, store and then recycle all those plastic bottles.

Cafes and restaurants are also trying to reassure customers that their water is safe.

The cozy Cafe Rhema in downtown advertises on a sign that "Our is filtered using reverse osmosis."

Iron against lead

Vendors at the nearby Flint Farmers Market are also quick to declare that their products are lead free.

Director Karianne Martus said the market and its vendors are recommending certain foods to residents who worried about lead poisoning.

A "nutrition and lead" cooking class is held in one corner of the large covered building, with recipes such as black bean and vegetable quesadillas, chocolate strawberry French toast, tuna melt and hearty egg burritos.

"Any foods that are high in iron, vitamin C, or calcium are really good in decreasing your absorption," said Joanna Sheill, the dietician who teaches the class.

Among the foods she recommends are fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat and dark green vegetables.

Explore further: Spike in Legionnaire's disease in Michigan, amid water crisis

Related Stories

The chemistry behind Flint's water crisis

February 17, 2016

When the city of Flint switched drinking water sources in 2014, it triggered a health emergency as startlingly high levels of lead turned up in the water. An article in Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), the weekly newsmagazine ...

Q&A: Legionnaires' disease adds to water concerns in Flint

January 14, 2016

A water crisis in Flint has focused mostly on the impact of drinking supplies containing lead that had leached from old plumbing after the city switched sources to save money. But Michigan officials stunned the community ...

Science heroes of Flint's lead water crisis

February 15, 2016

Old news, from a doc in Rome–in the second century BC, quoted by William Finnegan in the New Yorker. Finnegan's is a fine angry summary of thousands of years of accumulated medical knowledge about the evils of lead, epitomized ...

Recommended for you

New study brings Antarctic ice loss into sharper focus

February 21, 2018

A NASA study based on an innovative technique for crunching torrents of satellite data provides the clearest picture yet of changes in Antarctic ice flow into the ocean. The findings confirm accelerating ice losses from the ...

'Chameleon' ocean bacteria can shift their colors

February 21, 2018

Cyanobacteria - which propel the ocean engine and help sustain marine life - can shift their colour like chameleons to match different coloured light across the world's seas, according to research by an international collaboration ...

Stable gas hydrates can trigger landslides

February 21, 2018

Like avalanches onshore,many processes cause submarine landslides. One very widespread assumption is that they are associated with dissociating gas hydrates in the seafloor. However, scientists at GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.