Photo: AP

In 2014, residents in the predominantly black city of Flint, Michigan, were exposed to lead in their drinking water. Now, nearly four years later, a registry finally exists to help the state identify everyone that was exposed, and better provide them access to helpful resources.

The idea is to monitor people’s continued exposure —not just what happened during the worst moments of the water crisis when Flint residents saw their water systems become dangerously full of the toxic metal, which poses developmental threats to children, especially, and can enter the body through paint or dust, too.

The Flint Registry has been in the pipeline since August 2017 when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services first awarded Michigan State University $14 million towards the effort. Now, that work has paid off, and the program’s site is open for pre-enrollment.

The registry welcomes residents of all ages who lived in, worked in, or even visited Flint between April 2014 and October 2015. The program estimates this should be 150,000 people, according to The Flint Journal/M-Live. Nearly 100,000 children were estimated to have been living in the city in 2014—at the height of the crisis—according to data provided by registry director Nicole Jones.

Mari Copeny, member of the Flint Registry Youth Advisory Council, and Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician who helped expose the Flint water crisis, during the press conference January 22, 2018. Photo Courtesy of Michigan State University

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People can sign up to be notified when the program is officially online in September. Program representatives will follow up with residents at that time to help them access all the registry’s benefits: Anything from help with healthcare applications to learning where to find affordable fresh fruits and vegetables. The four key services the program is prioritizing are health, nutrition, child development, and lead elimination, Jones told Earther in an email.

“We want to make sure as many people as possible hear about and enroll in the registry,” she said.

With that in mind, the registry is working in partnership with the City of Flint, the Greater Flint Health Coalition, and the Pediatric Public Health Initiative. The registry also wants community members to play a key role.

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In this first year, program reps will prioritize community input and outreach efforts. Everyone affected needs to be involved, so Jones is working to make sure that happens. That includes holding public events, working social media, and creating phone and mail campaigns. The effort will even feature a youth advisory council to give young voices a platform, too.

Image Courtesy of Michigan State University

So far, residents helped with one major symbol: the registry’s logo, a bird. Per the FAQ:

The bird represents the Sankofa bird, a mythical African bird from the Akan tribe in Ghana. The bird is flying forward, yet looking back, and carrying an egg in its mouth. It is symbolic of always needing to move forward, but never forgetting what happened in the past, and prioritizing the young. The logo suggestion was made by a Flint resident.

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“We have an amazing community here in Flint that’s very engaged on lead and its impact on health,” Jones told Earther in a previous conversation. “The community is very ready to move toward goals of eliminating lead in the City of Flint. This is one tool to help support that goal.”

The Flint Registry is modeled on the one created after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the largest to track the health impacts of a disaster.

Jones acknowledged the process to make the registry a reality took, well, a while—definitely longer than it should have. After all, this crisis began in 2014. Shouldn’t a registry have existed already? The work, however, to get a program of this kind up and running has been ongoing since day one.

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“It’s a big project,” she told Earther. “It takes some time to make sure you have every piece you need to have in place to start the work.”