In April 2014, Flint's water supply was switched to the Flint River
A year and a half later in December of 2015, Flint declares a state of emergency
Lee-Anne Walters’ twin 5-year-old boys don’t talk like other boys their age. They also can’t remember their colors and their ABCs.
“They both have hand-eye coordination issues,” Walters tells CNN. “Gavin’s not growing properly. He’s 39 pounds and almost six years old. People don’t realize that they’re twins anymore.”
It’s been two years since officials in Flint, Michigan, told residents their tap water was unsafe to drink due to toxic levels of lead. Before the switch to the Flint River, residents had drawn their water from Lake Huron. In January 2015, Flint officials decline offer to reconnect water to Lake Huron. Six months later, experts at Virginia Tech recommended the state declare the water unsafe.
Since then, families like the Walters are still living with the effects of lead poisoning every day.
The two Walters boys are suffering short term and long term effects from lead exposure, their mother said. Some of the effects are visible.
But the boys also suffer developmental issues as well. According to Walters, the boys struggle with a form of memory loss.
“They knew their colors and numbers and their ABCs, and they’re being retaught all these things now because of what’s happened.”
It’s not just the physical and developmental effects the family faces. There’s a large psychological toll as well. And the medical repercussions come on top of the everyday hassle of the water crisis. The Walters family still relies solely on bottled water for everything – drinking, cooking, and bathing. Walters says her family uses 10 cases – that’s 240 bottles – a day.
“The most emotionally-trying part for me with them was and still is them recognizing why there is such a difference in their height and their weight,” Walters said. “It clicked in their little heads, ‘Ok, we were poisoned.”
Walters says the boys understand that they were poisoned by lead from their city’s water. But at 5-years-old, Garrett and Gavin were worried.
“We got asked questions, ‘Are we going to die? Can the doctor fix us? Is there medicine? That’s not something they should have to ask. I mean how many people are poisoned by their water?’
It’s not just Garrett and Gavin. Children all over the city have been exposed to lead.
“What happened to my children to the children in my community, it’s taken away their innocence,” says Walters. “That’s not OK. It’s not something that they can get back.”
Kathi Horton is the president of the Community Foundation of Greater Flint. She told CNN, “When the water crisis hit, it was truly like a punch in the gut because there’s nothing more fundamental than not being able to turn on your kitchen sink and trust the quality of the water.”
The Foundation created the Flint Child Health and Development Fund at the beginning of the water crisis to aid children exposed to lead.
Some of the areas under the fund’s purview include access to pediatric medical and behavioral health services, nutrition education, and social services.
Horton says that while the fund has already raised millions of dollars it still has a long way to go.
“We have committed to raising money over the next 10 to 20 years in order to have resources to follow these children into adulthood because sometimes it takes years for the impact of lead exposure to manifest itself.”
Caution remains the order of the day. In addition to the bottled water the Walters use for everything, they also sometimes have to boil tap water.
On the days the boys take a bath, for example, the family boils 15 to 18 gallons of water on the stovetop and in the microwave before pouring it into the bathtub. This routine has been their life for the past two years—every single day.
Through everything, the Walters family is still positive. Lee-Anne refuses to let what happen to her children define them, saying, “I don’t want my children to feel like victims even though we’ve been victimized. I want them to know that they’re survivors.”