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Friday, March 4, 2016

Flint, Michigan Water Crisis And Pets

My international readers may not be aware of current crisis in one American city, even though it is bad enough to have made national news and even the cover of Time magazine.  So here's a quick summary.
Flint, Michigan had been purchasing water from Detroit until 2014, when it switched to using treated water from the Flint River as part of cost-saving measures.  The river water was corrosive to the old pipes in the city and caused lead to leach into the water supply.  This has lead to an incredible health crisis in this very poor city (nearly half of the residents live in poverty), especially among children where the rates of high blood lead levels have doubled.  There has been a lot of finger-pointing between various government agencies, Flint's mayor, Michigan's governor, and has turned into quite the snafu.  The political fallout is nothing compared to the real health crisis among the citizens, especially now that all water in the city has been found unsafe, and the population has been left to drink, cook with, and bathe in bottled water or water trucked in from outside the area.  Because of the lead contamination even boiling it won't fix the issue. 
All of that is horrible and seems to show significant issues with how various government officials have handled the problem.  This crisis will affect an entire generation of Flint's citizens and will take years to sort out.  But until recently I hadn't considered the other victims....the pets.
Recently DVM 360 magazine published an article on the Flint crisis threatening pets.  They illuminated the fact that contaminated water not only threatens humans, but the dogs, cats, and livestock that drink water from the same supply as do their owners. 
In the article they interview the Michigan state veterinarian, Dr. James Averill.  So far there have only been two confirmed cases of lead toxicity in pets in Flint, but there are factors that may be artificially lowering this number.  Because so many people live below the poverty line they may not take their pets to a vet regularly and may not  have the funds to do much testing even if they did.  The small amounts of lead end up developing into more of a chronic issue rather than acute symptoms, so the problem may go undiagnosed for a long time.  And chronic lead toxicity has very nonspecific symptoms, such as vomiting, diarrhea, and changes in behavior.   The actual number of cases is likely much higher than what has been officially reported, and will probably continue to rise.

When there is a major crisis it is easy to see the impact to humans.  But it can be difficult to see the animals in those situations for those of us not close to it.  Toxic water, wildfires, tornados, earthquakes, and any other large-scale disaster can affect the pets just as much as the people.  Thankfully there are people who try to help our furry, feathered, and scaled companions.  For example, I know of many vets and veterinary staff who went to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to help take care of the displaced and injured animals.

Let's hope that the government quickly fixes the problem in Flint so that the people and animals can get back to the basic necessity of safe water.