Flint Water Crisis: Residents Fear Showering After Reports Of Rash And Hair Loss

Last year, Flint, Michigan, officials confirmed resident’s worst fear — their water was contaminated with dangerous levels of lead. Since then, residents have relied heavily on bottled water for drinking, but what about showering?

Despite the constant reassurance from government scientists that people cannot develop lead poisoning from showering, residents have been reporting an increase in rashes, itchiness, and hair loss after showering in Flint water. Because of this, many are taking extreme measures to bathe.

According to a report from the New York Times, Flint families have gone to great lengths to make sure that they can shower safely. Some have purchased gym memberships in surrounding counties so they can shower in the locker rooms, while others have been traveling to truck stops to maintain their cleanliness. Last month, hundreds were waiting in a long line to use the “Pump-N-Sprays: nozzles and foot pumps that can be attached to five-gallon bottles of water as makeshift showers.”

Members of a church congregation persuaded a nearby hotel to allow them to bathe there for a minimal fee, and those who are choosing to bathe at home are being forced to boil bottles of water for sponge baths. Those who are brave enough to shower at their homes only do so once a week for a few seconds with their mouths tightly closed so they don’t ingest any of the contaminated water.

“You wonder what you’re stepping into when you’re getting into the shower and just trying to make it as quick as possible,” Rev. Rigel J. Dawson, pastor of the North Central Church of Christ, said. “That uncertainty really kind of plays on you after a while; it wears you down.”

Because there have been so many complaints of skin irritation and hair loss, Dr. Nicole Lurie, an assistant secretary at the United States Department of Health and Human Services, has requested Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency to check whether the water was causing the symptoms, or if there was another common source.

“As of Tuesday, investigators had talked to 538 people who complained of rashes or other skin problems,” the New York Times reports. “Of those, 388 qualified for the study because they had an active rash that appeared after the city switched back to Detroit water.”

In April 2014, Flint began using water from the Flint River to save money. However, they failed to add chemicals to prevent pipe corrosion, causing the water to become contaminated with high levels of lead. In October 2015, Flint switched back to using Detroit water. Dr. Jevon McFadden, a medical epidemiologist for the CDC, said they are focusing on the patients who developed rashes after the switch was made in October because they “can only test the water that’s there now.” So far, 538 people have reported rashes or other skin irritations. Of those 538, 388 said their rash developed after the water was switched back in October.

“We are still very early in the process of pulling together data,” McFadden said. “We may not have identified a cause yet, but we certainly know this is a real challenge for the people of Flint, and we want to do everything we possibly can to try to get to the bottom of it.”

[Photo by Bill Pugliano / Stringer/ Getty Images]