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Fetal deaths up, pregnancy down after Flint water crisis

 

There were 12 percent fewer pregnancies and 58 percent fewer live births in Flint than in other Michigan cities during Flint’s water crisis, according to a new study. 

Initial findings show that average birth weights of babies effected by the water crisis in Flint were more than five ounces lower than in other Michigan cities. 

The new research from the University of Kansas (KU) and the University of West Virginia (WVU) suggests there may have been even more miscarriages in Flint than are documented. 

More than 2,000 babies born in Flint in 2014 and 2015 were exposed to lead. 

Dr Grossman and Slusky calculated the general fertility rates (GFR) of Flint and other major Michigan cities, and found a dramatic drop off in Flint, corresponding with the city's use of lead-contaminated water

Dr Grossman and Slusky calculated the general fertility rates (GFR) of Flint and other major Michigan cities, and found a dramatic drop off in Flint, corresponding with the city's use of lead-contaminated water

Dr Grossman and Slusky calculated the general fertility rates (GFR) of Flint and other major Michigan cities, and found a dramatic drop off in Flint, corresponding with the city’s use of lead-contaminated water

Mothers that were exposed to the contaminated water, between April 2014 and September 2015, gave birth to more female babies, indicating that male fetuses – known to be less resilient – may not have survived their mothers’ pregnancies.

Health economists Dr Daniel Grossman of WVU and David Slusky of KU compared data for Flint between 2008 and 2015 to data from 15 other major Michigan cities. 

They compared data on sexual activity and birth rates before and after the flint water crisis to come up with a ‘general fertility rate.’ 

Exposure to lead is known to have negative effects on fertility for both men and women, and research has linked it to ‘spontaneous abortion,’ or fetal death.

More than five milligrams of lead in a woman’s blood can have adverse effects on her her, her fertility, and, if she is or becomes pregnant, her baby. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) site says that ‘even low-level lead exposures in developing babies have been found to affect behavior and intelligence. Lead exposure can cause miscarriage, stillbirths, and infertility (in both men and women).’ 

Taylormatthias Wilson-Williams, two months old in this Getty picture, was conceived in 2015 when his mother, Tiantha Williams was exposed to lead in Flint's water.  Taylormatthias was born 12 weeks premature, and during his first two months of life had to be on a heart monitor and breathing machine 

Taylormatthias Wilson-Williams, two months old in this Getty picture, was conceived in 2015 when his mother, Tiantha Williams was exposed to lead in Flint's water.  Taylormatthias was born 12 weeks premature, and during his first two months of life had to be on a heart monitor and breathing machine 

Taylormatthias Wilson-Williams, two months old in this Getty picture, was conceived in 2015 when his mother, Tiantha Williams was exposed to lead in Flint’s water.  Taylormatthias was born 12 weeks premature, and during his first two months of life had to be on a heart monitor and breathing machine 

The researchers analyzed data from the US Census Bureau and found that there were about 7.5 fewer live births per thousand women in 2014 and 2015 in Flint than there were in the other large Michigan cities. 

Dr Grossman calls this a ‘pretty substantial’ difference.

The toxic lead levels in the water in Flint, Michigan, and how it impacted the residents

Flint, Michigan, experienced a contamination problem with its water supply after the city started using the Flint River

The city was originally getting its water from Detroit, but made the switch to the river in April 2014.

Children living in Flint then started to experience an extreme increase in lead levels in the blood. 

A study showed lead levels in children doubled after the city made the switch. 

This toxic chemical is damaging to a child’s brain development and growth. 

The mayor of Flint declared the city in a state of emergency in December 2015 as officials scrambled to figure out a solution to the increase in lead. 

Residents in the city protested until the government switched the water supply back to coming from Detroit. 

But the increased lead exposure could have irreversible effects on the people most affected. 

Officials don’t know if it will ever be safe for residents to ingest the water from Flint.   

He says that he and Slusky anticipated a decrease in birth rates, given the well-documented effects of lead exposure on fertility, but that the difference was a ‘bit larger than expected.’ 

Though the birth rate in the city of about 97,000 was lower than in years past, about 2,010 babies were born in Flint that were exposed to lead while in utero.

These children are more likely to have been premature, underweight, and are at risk for developmental delays and brain, kidney and nervous system issues.

Fetal deaths are only recorded if they occur after 20 weeks of pregnancy, in a hospital. 

Numbers documenting them do not include other, earlier miscarriages, or those that occur outside of a hospital, so they don’t provide a complete picture of fetal death rates.

But the researchers also examined reported sexual activity in Flint, which did not decrease during the water crisis. This means that if fertility were the same as it had been in years past, they would have expected about the same number of documented fetal deaths. 

Instead, they found a 58 percent increase in deaths. Dr Grossman says that this is a ‘large increase, based on a small base.’

‘This suggests that miscarriage rates perhaps are increasing in Flint,’ he adds. 

The effects of lead exposure on the residents of Flint, especially newborns and young children, are not completely clear, and will continue to manifest as time goes on. 

Dr Grossman says that the effects of the water change on children have, thus far, been fairly well-documented. 

But he and Slusky ‘thought it was important to capture some of the other costs of this water change that had not received press…so that perhaps we can work to mitigate the effects for this population.’

 

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