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I cannot continue to watch an entire city being poisoned! I cannot continue to remain silent about the dangers that our community faces! I cannot continue to ignore the fact the women and men’s sexual and reproductive health are in danger. I cannot help but to wonder how many of us are living with a toxic infrastructure, meaning that our bodies have been poisoned as a result of this water! What happens to our community now….we eventually die off and a city that was is no longer! I AM FLINT!

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 has been plagued by a series of barriers including but not limited to: political, institutional, religious/spiritual, infrastructural, social, racial and cultural, residents are lacking a very basic quality of life necessity….clean water.

Outraged, frustrated, and angry residents -rightfully so- are forced to utilize bottle water for drinking, cooking, and bathing. The lead contaminated water supply in Flint is so unsafe that on Monday the state’s 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 has been on the effects of lead in children, I would like to shift the focus to women and men. Given the fact that the water is so harsh that it has corroded the pipes and the state’s attorney general has issued warnings against its use, I can’t help but wonder what the extent of the damage will be.

Studies show that lead may be taken in through direct contact with the mouth, nose, and eyes. Studies also show that lead may be absorbed through the mucous membranes. In the females, the fallopian tubes, uterus, vagina, clitoris, clitoral hood and the urethra have mucous membranes. In the males, the glans penis (the head of the penis), inner layer of the foreskin and urethra have mucous membranes. These mucous membranes are quite adept at absorbing chemicals. Introducing potentially toxic ingredients, such as lead, can have damaging long-term effects on 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
  • infertility
  • low sexual desire
  • miscarriage
  • pre-eclampsia
  • pregnancy hypertension
  • premature delivery
  • low birth weight
  • stillbirth
  • problems in fetal neurological development

In addition, lead is able to pass through the placenta and into breast milk.

Lead is known to cause a number of adverse outcomes in men. Reported effects in men include:

  • decrease sperm count totals
  • increase abnormal sperm frequencies
  • decreased sperm mobility
  • loss of sexual desire
  • erectile dysfunction

Finally, even if a couple is able to successfully conceive a viable pregnancy, the child may still experience significant long-term, irreversible damage from the lead. Children born to exposed parents are more likely to have birth defects, mental health challenges, behavioral disorders, or even die during the first year of life. In addition, consider the fact that the parents may also suffer significant long-term irreversible physiological damage on other organ systems within their body. This could ultimately impact the quality of care they can provide to themselves, their family and their child, resulting in the decline of overall quality of life.

Sexual and reproductive health is an important part of our overall health. It can also cause depression, feelings of guilt, anxiety, stress, relationship challenges, low self-esteem, lack of confidence, body image issues and so much more. If you have any concerns regarding lead and your sexual and reproductive health, I encourage you to consult your physician.

Since several studies have implicated lead as contributing factor to sexual, reproductive and developmental effects, in order to reduce the effects on sexual and reproductive health, I definitely discourage both women and men from taking a bath using Flint water given the implication that it can have on our bodies.

What’s the solution?

In the meantime, what can people do to protect their sexual and reproductive health? I would love to say that I have a surefire solution, but I do not. The use of bottle water is great but it can become really costly and may not necessarily be an option for families, who are already strapped for cash or for the elderly who are on a fixed income. Nevertheless until there is a resolution to the water crisis, I am including the following tips as a way to reduce and minimize exposure to lead.

  • Instead of sitting in a bathtub full of polluted water, take a shower in an effort to minimize how much contact the water has with the vulvovaginal or penile area
  • If a shower option is not available, stand up in the bathtub instead of sitting down in the water

Additional options include:

  • Utilize a shower filters, that is certified to remove lead, on shower head. If you choose to use a filter, it is important to maintain any filter that you use because some treatment devices may increase the levels of lead and other contaminants if they aren’t properly maintained.
  • Convert the bathtub into a “shower” by placing a tub shower faucet adapter on the bathtub faucet
  • Flush your pipes before drinking, and only use cold water for cooking and drinking. Lead from plumbing is more likely to enter your water if it is hot or if the water stays in contact with the pipes for extended periods of time. Running the water until it’s as cold as it gets flushes out the water that was sitting in the pipe that is likely to contain more lead.
  • Nutrition plays a role in lead absorption, so make sure you and your family eat balanced diets that contain recommended amounts of iron, calcium, zinc, and vitamin C. The amount of lead absorbed by the body also increases when your diet is high in fat or your stomach is empty.
  • Since cigarette smoke contains lead, not smoking can lower your exposure to lead

While these tips will not guarantee that a person will not be exposed to lead, it will help to reduce their risk.

The impact on sexual and reproductive health is a conversation and consideration that needs to take place along with all the other health risk and concerns associated with the Flint water crisis! We cannot afford to ignore the harmful effects that lead poisoning has on sexual and reproductive health. We cannot have a “toxic infrastructure” and expect to bring healthy babies into the world!

The reproductive effects of lead are complex and appear to involve multiple pathways, not all of which are fully understood and more research is needed to fully determine the extent of the damage. The Flint community requires a complex response! Not just a quick fix or Band-Aid approach. If the residents of Flint do not begin to take steps to reduce their exposure to lead, then the results will be lifelong, multi-intergenerational consequences. Finally, Flint must stand up! Even in the midst of the crisis, we still have to keep moving forward. When the spotlight is off, the celebrities have moved on to the next big American crisis and the water has dried up, life will still have to go on!

#HowDareINot #ISaveLives #IAMFLint