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Editorial: Lead crisis is much bigger than Flint

The Detroit News

With the 2020 presidential race in full swing, candidates are again swooping in to visit Flint following the well-documented crisis of lead in the water that city has endured. While it may play well for Democratic candidates to visit the city, they shouldn't ignore the much broader lead crisis in Michigan and nationally.

The politics at play in Flint make that city's water crisis more attractive to candidates. But they can't lose sight of the facts, either. Other cities, including Chicago, Philadelphia and Cincinnati, have higher lead levels than Flint today. Locally, Highland Park and parts of Detroit still face extremely high lead levels that merit action.

More:Highland Park warns of elevated lead levels found in homes

More:More than half of Detroit's schools have tainted water from lead, copper

Most of the candidates have made use of the Flint water crisis, seizing on the narrative government failure under a Republican state administration. But lead poisoning goes well beyond water. In Detroit, 1,600 children a year are treated for excessively high lead levels, and most is caused by dust and chips of lead-based paint, which was widely used in city housing until 1978.

Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro visited Flint in June to reveal his billion-dollar plan to eliminate lead exposure. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand visited this month on her “Trump Broken Promises” tour, as did New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke.

In this Wednesday, July 24, 2019, photo, Democratic presidential candidate and former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke answers a question from the audience at a town hall at the Ferris Wheel in downtown Flint, Mich. O'Rourke spoke on education, immigration and equal rights.

Author and presidential candidate Marianne Williamson schooled her Democratic opponents during Tuesday's Detroit debate when she gave her reaction to the Flint water crisis.

"Flint is just the tip of the iceberg," she said, offering Denmark, South Carolina, as an example of how "there are communities all over the country that are suffering from environmental injustice.”

She's right.

But Williamson really needn't have looked any further than the front door of the Fox Theatre to make her point.

The Detroit News reported in September that over half of the 106 schools in Wayne County, along with an additional 33 buildings in the Detroit Public Schools Community District, have high levels of copper and/or lead.

And earlier this very month, Highland Park homes tested as high as 41 times the permissible limit for lead contamination.

The fact that candidates ignore other towns in Michigan and across the United States that struggle with water contamination lends credence to the distrust many Flint residents still feel — understandably so — toward the safety of their water.

The Democratic candidates’ desire to serve Flint by eradicating lead poisoning and establishing clean drinking water is noble and good. But when they miss the crises making headlines right under their noses, it makes them look as if they care more about photo-ops than tackling a very real and widespread problem.