Everyone is fired up and weighing in on some very insensitive comments that were recently made by former NBA player Gilbert Arenas. After reading his Instagram posts (now deleted) about “blocking any girl from #FLINT,” I too must admit that I thought his comments were insensitive. However, when I took another look at the comments, I saw beyond the surface. I saw something much deeper that needed to be addressed. I saw something that I needed to bring awareness to.
By now I’m sure that you all have heard about my beloved city of Flint, Michigan and the water crisis that has thrusted the city into the spotlight. Flint, the former home of General Motors (GM) and a once thriving economic metropolis, now beckons the kindness of strangers to help it survive. The past few decades have been rough for the blue-collar city, which has experienced a economic hardship, drop in population and a rise in violent crimes since GM began closing its plants in the 1980s. Approximately 40% of residents live in poverty. That makes Flint the second most poverty-stricken city in the nation for its size. The last thing the city needed was another crisis!
The Flint water crisis has the entire nation talking about a city that has been polluted and betrayed. “Lead, Legionnaires and liar” has now become synonymous with Flint. In an already challenged city that’s has been plagued by a series of barriers including, but not limited to, political, institutional, religious/spiritual, infrastructural, social, racial and cultural, residents are now lacking a very basic quality of life necessity: clean water.
Outraged, frustrated and angry residents – rightfully so – are forced to utilize bottled water for drinking, cooking and bathing. The lead contaminated water supply in Flint is so unsafe that on Monday the state attorney general warned parents to keep their children far from it – including a warning against bathing.
While children may be at a particularly higher degree of risk, it’s a warning that everyone should heed. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there is no degree of lead poisoning that is considered safe, and many of the effects of lead poisoning are permanent and irreversible. The impact of lead can last up to three generations.
While much of the focus and studies have been on the effects of lead in children, I would like to shift focus to women. Given the fact that the water is so harsh that it has corroded the pipes and the state attorney general has issued warnings against its use, I can’t help but to wonder what the water is doing to women’s sexual and reproductive health.
Studies show that lead may be taken in through direct contact with the mouth, nose or eyes. Studies also show that lead may be absorbed through mucous membranes. As a mucous membrane, the fallopian tubes, uterus, vagina and vulva are also quite adept at absorbing chemicals. Introducing toxic ingredients, such as lead, can have damaging long-term effects on women’s sexual and reproductive health and well-being.
Lead is known to cause a number of adverse outcomes in women. Reported effects in women include:
- abnormal menstrual cycles
- low sexual desire
- pregnancy hypertension
- premature delivery
- low birth weight