Sunday, January 31, 2016

Deploying AU Force Without Burundi Approval 'Unimaginable'
Addis Ababa

(AFP) - The African Union will not deploy peacekeepers to troubled Burundi unless the government in Bujumbura agrees, the AU special representative for the region told French radio RFI on Sunday.

Burundi has consistently opposed the idea of the AU's proposed 5,000-strong peacekeeping mission, saying the deployment of troops without its express permission would be tantamount to an "invasion force".

The UN has warned Burundi risks a repeat of a 1993-2006 civil war, with hundreds killed since April 2015, when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would stand for a controversial third term in office, and at least 230,000 people fleeing to neighbouring countries.

"It has been, I think, bad communication. It was never the intention of the African Union to deploy a mission to Burundi without the consent of Burundian authorities," Ibrahima Fall, AU Special Representative for the Great Lakes Region, said.

"This is unimaginable," the Senegalese diplomat added.

AU leaders are debating the crisis in Burundi at a two-day summit at the 54-member bloc's headquarters in Ethiopia. Talks are being held behind closed doors and it is unclear when a final decision will be taken.

Fall said the leaders were considering sending a "high-level delegation, not to say very high" to Burundi to hold talks with the government.

Nkurunziza's quest to remain in power sparked weeks of street protests that were brutally suppressed and a failed coup.

Since his re-election in July, clashes between government loyalists and the opposition have turned increasingly violent.

The AU charter's Article 4 (h) gives the pan-African bloc the right to intervene in a fellow nation state "in respect of grave circumstances, namely: war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity."

But analysts say other African nations are wary of setting a precedent of deploying troops against the government's wishes.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, speaking on Saturday as the AU summit opened, made clear troops were needed to stem the violence.

"Leaders who stand by while civilians are slaughtered in their name must be held responsible," Ban said, insisting that the Burundi crisis required the "most serious and urgent commitment".

He said the UN backed the AU's proposal "to deploy human rights observers and to establish a prevention and protection mission".

Some African states oppose AU peace force for Burundi - Gambian pres.

By Aaron Maasho and Edmund Blair

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Some African states oppose sending peacekeepers to Burundi without its consent after it said that would be seen as an invasion, Gambia's president said on Saturday at the start of an African Union summit.

Rifts in Africa about whether to deploy the 5,000-strong force will worry Western powers and others, who fear Burundi will slide into ethnic conflict if there is no intervention.

The African Union's peace and security council announced the plan for the force in December, but Burundi swiftly rejected it.

The AU charter allows a force to be sent against the will of a host country if there is a risk of serious violence, such as genocide. But some African leaders may be concerned about setting a precedent that could be turned on them, experts say.

"It is not only Burundi that is resisting that idea," Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh told reporters at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa when asked if there was opposition to the plan for peacekeepers. He did not name any nations.

Asked if Gambia was among them, he said: "Without the consent of Burundi, yes."

Burundi, facing its worst crisis since an ethnically charged civil war ended in 2005, is high on the agenda for the two-day summit as violence that has killed hundreds of people rattles a region where memories of Rwanda's 1994 genocide are still raw.

Officials have said African leaders would try to persuade President Pierre Nkurunziza - who triggered the crisis by standing for a disputed third term in July elections - to accept such a force. They also said they were unlikely to succeed.

"When it comes to troops, our position has not changed. It is a no-go area under any conditions," Burundi's Foreign Minister Alain Nyamitwe told reporters in Addis Ababa.

Leaders from the 15 members of the council met on Friday in a bid to resolve differences but failed to reach a decision, said Smail Chergui, the AU's peace and security commissioner.

An African diplomat said South Africa and Tanzania, two main brokers of the peace deal that brought Nkurunziza to power in 2005, were among those opposed to sending an unwanted force.

Ivan Simonovic, U.N. assistant secretary-general for human rights, said a failure to deploy troops would be a concern, but the AU should at least send more African human rights observers or send police.

"At the moment, it is important to increase international presence in one or the other form," he told Reuters.

(Editing by Tom Heneghan)
Little Respite Seen From Hot, Dry South African Summer: Weather Service
Jan. 29, 2016, 9:40 AM 26

A woman gets water from a well dug in the Black Imfolozi River bed, which is dry due to drought, near Ulundi, northeast of Durban, South Africa January 20, 2016. REUTERS/Rogan Ward
Thomson Reuters

By Ed Stoddard

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - An El Nino weather pattern which has triggered historic drought in South Africa remains on track to keep conditions hot and dry for the rest of the summer over most of the country including the maize belt, the country's weather service said on Friday.

South African maize prices have raced to record highs because of the drought, which the central bank once again cited on Thursday as a concern driving food prices and inflation when it raised interest rates by 50 basis points.

"Most models are showing the continuation of a strong El Nino episode toward the late-summer season with the expectation to start gradually decaying during the autumn and early winter seasons," the service said in its monthly outlook, which gives rolling forecasts for the following five months.

"Other international forecasting systems also similarly indicate a tendency of drier and warmer conditions for South Africa," it said.

The only change from the December outlook is that the likelihood of above-average temperatures and below-average rainfall has decreased slightly, said Cobus Olivier, a prediction scientist at the South African Weather Service.

"But the main expectation remains for drier conditions," he said.

This scenario applies to the regions of South Africa that typically get summer rains including the fertile maize belt which stretches east and west from Johannesburg.

South Africa last year recorded its lowest rainfall levels since records began in 1904 and the staple maize crop is likely to come in at 7.44 million tonnes, 25 percent lower than last year, a government agency said on Wednesday.

Late rains prompted some maize farmers in the western regions to plant two months late.

But the weather service noted that "rainfall events may still occur, as is the norm for the summer season. However, extreme high temperatures which cause high evaporation, may worsen the current drought conditions."

(Editing by James Macharia/Jeremy Gaunt.)
Lead Paint, Lead Toys, Lead Dietary Supplements
The lead pipes in Flint, Michigan, are a tiny part of a huge problem.

By Megan Cartwright
Matt Hopper comforts Nyla Hopper, age 5, of Flint, after she has her blood drawn to be tested for lead on Jan. 26. Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

In 2013, the year before a state-appointed official switched the source of drinking water for residents of Flint, Michigan, 2.4 percent of the county’s young children showed dangerously elevated blood-lead levels. By 2015, that figure had more than doubled, to 4.9 percent.

The cause of this tragic increase seems very clear: The city’s new water source—the Flint River—has enough chloride in it to corrode the lead pipes that compose the aging, local water-distribution system, thus releasing the toxic metal into the community. With good reason, Flint is now being used as a wake-up call to prevent lead exposures by updating America’s aging water systems. “The best solution would be to replace our lead lines systematically and proactively, not just one crisis-beset city at a time,” writes Chris Sellers for the Conversation. “Until we do so, it’s a safe bet that more Flints lie on our horizon.”

I completely agree, but let’s not forget the grim statistic that we started with—the 2.4 percent of Flint kids who had high blood-lead levels before lead contaminated their drinking water. Rather than focusing only on lead exposure from drinking water, perhaps we should treat Flint’s crisis as an alarm about all lead exposures.

While Flint is a special case, its victims are far from unique. In 2010, at least 243,000 American kids were diagnosed with elevated blood-lead levels, or BLLs. In the early 1990s, when the Environmental Protection Agency put in place comprehensive regulations for lead and copper in drinking water, the government estimated that contamination of the water supply accounted for just 10 to 20 percent of the nation’s lead exposure. Meanwhile, the fate of up to 70 percent of the kids who develop elevated BLLs can be attributed to eating or inhaling lead-contaminated house paint and dirt. And the remainder may be suffering exposure from other, unexpected sources: dietary supplements. Pottery and glassware. Candle wicks. Imported makeup. Cheap toys. Chocolate.

Some kids are even unintentionally poisoned by their parents. In 2003, the U.S. consumed 1.5 million tons and produced about 450,000 tons of lead. That’s a lot of lead—and a lot of people working with it: Approximately 48,000 families have one adult working with the metal, in industries such as construction, remodeling, mining, and recycling. At the end of the workday, lead-contaminated dust can ride home on a parent’s clothes, skin, and hair—a process known as “fouling the nest.” A 1999 meta-analysis estimated that the children in these contaminated homes were almost six times more likely to have elevated BLLs than those in the general population.

It may be more disturbing to learn that kids can be poisoned by the pills, powders, and supplements that parents use to keep them healthy. Unlike blood-pressure medication and pacemakers, the FDA has no authority to review supplements for safety and efficacy. Unsurprisingly, a 2003 study of 95 commercial dietary supplements, purchased from D.C.-area stores, found that 11 contained enough lead to be hazardous to children and pregnant women. The offending supplements contained bee pollen, spirulina, and shark cartilage, but the worst offender contained something called “pseudo-ginseng root” which had 81 times the tolerable lead intake for a child. FDA scientists found similar results in 1993 and 2004 analyses.

Poor manufacturing practices and a lack of oversight lead to some contamination of alternative medicine. Other medicines, including traditional Chinese, Ayurvedic, and Mexican remedies, may be formulated with lead on the theory that heavy metals are therapeutic. The consequences are predictable: Kids have developed acute lead poisoning after taking Mexican remedies such as azarcón and greta, and the Indian remedy ghasard. A 2015 study found that 40 percent of a sample of 115 American adherents of Ayurvedic medicine tested positive for elevated BLLs.

Lead can also contaminate imported toys and food. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has been kept busy issuing recalls for lead-contaminated toys from China—including a recall of 4 million children’s bracelets in the spring of 2007. And the huge amount of imported food absolutely overwhelms the USDA’s testing abilities. As a result, imported food sold in the U.S. can be contaminated from the lead solder in cans and lead-based ink on wrappers. In 2001, candy was identified as the lead source for more than 150 Californian kids with elevated BLLs.

So with all this lead around—in workplaces, supplements, food, toys, dust, house paint, and water systems—what’s the best way to reduce exposure?

As the situation in Flint has made clear, we need to be more vigilant about lead pipes to prevent the sort of chronic lead exposure that elevates BLLs. But we should also pursue other measures, such as increased budgets for testing imported food and substantive regulation of dietary supplements. These measures could help reduce the sort of acute exposures that severely poison children.

Most importantly, we should work to reverse the $1.9 billion in cuts and the loss of 49,310 public health jobs from state health departments that have occurred since 2008. These are the people who are in the trenches: They track kids’ BLLs, so they know when there’s a problem. They counsel parents on how to avoid “fouling the nest.” They help inspect homes for lead paint—and then help remediate those homes. Without the money to keep these people doing their jobs to stop lead exposures—from all sources—I can guarantee we’ll have more tragedies like Flint’s.

Megan Cartwright is a 2015 Mass Media Fellow with the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a Ph.D. candidate in toxicology at the University of Washington. Follow her on Twitter or through her blog, Science-Based Writing.
How GM Saved Itself From Flint Water Crisis
Rusting engine blocks flagged big problem

UAW officials say the water crisis has been a hardship on everyone who works at GM's plants, whether or not they live in Flint.

Automotive News
January 31, 2016 - 12:01 am ET

FLINT, Mich. — General Motors, the biggest employer in Flint, might also be its luckiest water customer.

Soon after Flint made its ill-fated switch in 2014 to Flint River water from the costlier Detroit municipal system, officials at GM’s engine plant here flagged a big problem: corrosion caused by high levels of chloride in the water.

“The water was rusting the [engine] blocks,” Dan Reyes, president of UAW Local 599, which represents the plant’s nearly 900 workers, recalled in an interview last week.

In December 2014, the plant switched from Flint’s tainted water system to a fresh supply from neighboring Flint Township -- an option that was not afforded other Flint residents and businesses.

As a result, the plant was able to sidestep a crisis that has befallen everyone else in the city where GM was born more than a century ago.

The workaround was made possible by the factory’s fortuitous location and some heads-up planning.

Plant officials were among the first people in Flint to detect something wrong. It was in summer 2014, many months before the problem of corroding lead pipes would morph into a public-health calamity and national media maelstrom.

For GM, the problem was not lead but the elevated levels of chloride in the treated river water -- added to remove solids and contaminants -- that began to cause “visible corrosion damage on parts coming out of the machining process,” GM spokesman Tom Wickham said last week.

The 1.2-million-square-foot plant makes engines used in the Buick Enclave crossover, Chevrolet Cruze compact and Colorado pickup and other vehicles.

For months, factory officials tried to make it work. They used reverse osmosis, an advanced and pricey purification process. Additional water was trucked in to dilute chloride levels. The remediation efforts proved time consuming and costly, Wickham said.

Asking questions

It was then that GM began working through the bureaucratic red tape of extracting itself from its Flint water contract and hooking into the township, which uses water treated by Detroit. That was an option only because of the plant’s location on the boundary of Flint Township. (The engine factory was once within the township, before it was annexed by the city in the 1970s.)

As a result, it was relatively easy to tap into the township’s pipes, Flint Township Treasurer Marsha Binelli explained in an interview last week. “The infrastructure already was in place,” she said.

But for GM’s Flint workers, the engine corrosion was an unsettling sign. That’s about the time their questions about the safety of the water -- used inside the factories for food preparation, coffee, showers and drinking water -- grew louder, Reyes said.

“At the time, these state officials are saying that it’s safe to drink,” Reyes said. Members began asking: “If it’s too corrosive for an engine, what’s it doing to the inside of a person?”

UAW officials say the water crisis has been a hardship on everyone who works at GM’s plants, whether or not they live in the city. (The company’s Flint assembly and stamping plants, which use less water in their operations than the engine factory uses, remain on the Flint city system.)

Residents have been installing home water filters and stocking up on bottled water for drinking. One afternoon last week, a steady stream of vehicles pulled up to the city’s main fire department, where Army National Guard troops loaded cases of water into trunks and back seats. GM workers who live elsewhere still have affected friends or family, said Scott Henry, an international servicing rep at the UAW.

“Many of these people are third- and fourth-generation union workers,” Henry said. “They’re worried about their elderly parents, their kids. They’re worried about the values of their homes.”

The water crisis has again turned a harsh national spotlight on Flint, a city of about 100,000 residents, mostly black, that is among the nation’s highest in poverty and violent crime. It was here that GM founder Billy Durant transformed his carriage-building business for the motor age and began peddling Buicks in 1908. By the 1970s, GM employed about 80,000 workers in Flint.

A few years ago, GM bought the original factory and office building from which Durant started the company -- complete with his spittoon and handwritten records -- to convert it into a small museum and archive center.

GM’s work force here has dwindled to about 7,200 -- a dramatic erosion chronicled in the 1989 Michael Moore documentary Roger & Me -- but Flint remains a GM town. GM is the largest employer and one of the biggest taxpayers in the city.

Vehicles await bottled water in Flint, Mich. UAW officials say the crisis is a hardship on everyone who works at GM’s Flint plants.

Filling the void

The water crisis has also stoked the UAW’s social-justice mission, union officials say. Hundreds of workers have volunteered on recent Fridays to deliver cases of bottled water -- many using their personal pickups -- to local community centers, for example. (The General Motors Foundation last fall donated $50,000 to the local United Way chapter for the purchase of water filters for city residents.)

Amid widespread distrust of public officials who had long dismissed concerns about the safety of Flint River water, UAW members and retirees have turned to union leaders to fill the void, Reyes said.

Several of the few hundred retirees who attended Local 599’s union hall for a monthly meeting last week had water-related questions. Where can they get free water filters? How long is the lead contamination expected to last?

“In their eyes, we’re expected to have all the answers,” Reyes said. “They want to know that someone is fighting for them, fighting to find a solution. That’s what we’re doing.”

You can reach Mike Colias at
More Water Problems in Flint, Michigan
FLINT, Mich. -- The trouble with the water in Flint just doesn't let up.

Residents have been using water filters for the last few months since dangerous lead levels were discovered.

Now, it appears some of those filters haven't been filtering enough.

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said lead readings at 26 homes in the city were 10 times the federal limit-- too high to be treated by filters distributed by the state.

"It's really important that everyone get their water tested," Weaver said.

According to health officials, water lead levels at 3,900 other sites were considered safe. Despite the concerning levels at some homes, the EPA's Mark Durno urged calm.

"We're confident that these filters work," Durno said.

The problems began when Flint switched its water source from the Great Lakes to the Flint River. For more than a year, lead leached from the pipes because the city failed to add standard anti-corrosion chemicals to the water.

At least 100 children have tested positive for high levels of toxic lead in their blood.

"My hair is falling out. My blood tests are a mess. I was healthy," Flint resident Melissa Mays said. Mays has been outspoken about the tainted water, and said she was horrified by the new lead readings.

"There's no trust. There's no trust in the filters, there's no trust in what the state and community are doing at this point," Mays told CBS News.

Health officials will continue to test and treat the water, but warn it could be months before it is safe to drink.
More Than 100 Photos of Mice, Leaks and Poor Conditions at Detroit Schools Accompany Lawsuit
Photographic exhibits filed in a lawsuit against Detroit Public Schools include images of rodent carcasses, wet, often moldy conditions caused by leaks, fallen ceiling tiles and other safety hazards at various school buildings. The teachers union and several parents filed the lawsuit in Wayne County Circuit Court on Jan. 28, 2016, claiming Detroit children are being denied a "minimally adequate education," and calling for the removal of DPS Emergency Manager Darnell Earley. (Tanya Moutzalias | MLive Detroit)

Tanya Moutzalias |
Khalil AlHajal | By Khalil AlHajal |
January 29, 2016 at 10:30 AM, updated January 29, 2016 at 3:39 PM

DETROIT, MI -- Teachers and parents who sued Detroit Public Schools on Thursday have gathered more than 100 photographs as evidence of poor school conditions to accompany their lawsuit.

The exhibits include images of dead mice, wet and moldy conditions cause by leaks, fallen ceiling tiles, exposed wiring and other safety hazards at various Detroit schools.

The photos can be viewed in the above gallery.

The lawsuit, filed in Wayne County Circuit Court by the American Federation of Teachers, the Detroit Federation of Teachers and several parents of children in the district, claims students are being denied a "minimally adequate education."

"Our children deserve better. They're going to get better, one way or another," said Shoniqua Kemp, a parent of two Detroit kids and a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit calls for the removal of Emergency Manager Darnell Earley, who is the fourth appointee to run the district since the state took control of Detroit Public Schools in 2009.

Earley said Thursday that it's up to the state legislature to solve the problem of disrepair in Detroit schools, referring to a plan proposed by Gov. Rick Snyder to have the state pay off the district's debt, and to relaunch Detroit's school system as a new entity.

But the plan would likely cost other school districts around the state, and hasn't gotten much support in Lansing.

"The investment of these funds will be necessary to implement a badly needed, districtwide long-term capital improvement plan," Earley said. "Meanwhile, we continue to address those matters that have been presented in the inspection reports from the City, and have been made aware of through our work order system, through a corrective action plan that provides available resources for these repairs."

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan earlier this month ordered inspections of all Detroit school buildings after teacher's began protesting.

The inspections confirmed severe problems with rodents, mold, heating and structural problems, and the school district announced that it would initiate immediate remedies for certain violations, while working with state regulatory officials to address larger issues.

Union officials said Thursday that the lawsuit was intended as a way to ensure, through the courts, that the building the problems are addressed.

"What we assert is that when you have ceiling tiles falling from the ceiling," said AFT lawyer Bob Fetter, "when you have mold in the air, when you have steam coming from your mouth when you're in the classroom because your classroom is freezing, that, amongst the other issues -- vermin-infested rooms, that is not a minimally adequate education."

A severe case of mold that could affect air quality was discovered under a gym floor during during the city's inspection of Spain Elementary School, where "evidence of vermin infestation, including fecal matter and carcasses," were also noted by inspectors.

Christopher Robinson, another Detroit parent and plaintiff in the lawsuit, said the mold problem at Spain may have only recently been brought to public attention, but was apparent for years.

"That floor's been like that for at least four years," he said. "You can't make this stuff up."

Earley, who took over the district in January 2015, said he's done what he's been appointed to do by balancing the district's structural budget, and that it's up to the state to approve funds to address the district's burdensome long-term debt, projected at $550 million.

"The focus of my work has been on preparing DPS for long-term financial sustainability and a return to some form of local control," Earley said in a statement after the lawsuit was filed.

"My team and I have worked hard to develop and implement a comprehensive restructuring plan that has taken a financially broken educational system and transformed it into one that, but for its long-term debt, has eliminated it structural budget deficit. This is evident from the District's FY2015 audit report, which documents the fact that if the annual $56 million in debt payments were resolved, the District would be able to operate within its projected revenues."

The austerity measures and resulting poor school conditions have angered teachers, students and parents, who have been staging protests for weeks, at times forcing schools to close due to widespread, coordinated teacher absences.
Vermin Evidence Found in At Least One More Detroit School
Shawn D. Lewis, The Detroit News
12:27 a.m. EST January 31, 2016

Detroit — The city of Detroit on Saturday released its latest round of public school building inspection reports that include evidence of vermin in at least one school.

The inspections at 14 schools found evidence of insects and rodents in a school, Sampson/Webber Academy at 4700 Tireman. The school was ordered to make necessary repairs to plumbing in a wall to prevent leaking, and to rid the premises of insects/rodents and provide documentation from a licensed contractor.

An earlier inspection at Spain Elementary found mold growing under wood flooring in the gym and evidence of a vermin infestation, which included fecal matter and carcasses in various rooms.

Michelle Zdrodowski, spokeswoman for Detroit Public Schools, said in a statement: “The issue of the disrepair of some of the District’s buildings and a plan to address that is before the legislature.

“The investment of these funds will be necessary to implement a badly needed, district-wide long-term capital improvement plan. Meanwhile, we continue to address those matters that have been presented in the inspection reports from the city, and have been made aware of through our work order system, through a corrective action plan that provides available resources for these repairs, she said.

(313) 222-2296

The 14 Detroit Public Schools cited in the city’s recent inspections are:

■Brenda Scott Academy

■Burton International School

■Carstens Academy of Aquatic Science at Remus

■East English Village Preparatory Academy

■ Fisher Magnet Lower Academy,

■Fisher Magnet Upper Academy

■Fleming Early Learning Neighborhood Center,

■Gardner Elementary School Mason Academy

■Nichols Elementary-Middle School

■Oakland International Academy

■ Pulaski Elementary-Middle School

■ Sampson-Webber Leadership Academy

■Turning Point Academy.

Washington confirms it's working on 'decisive military action' against ISIS

WASHINGTON – As Washington prepares to take “decisive military action” in Libya against the alarming growth of ISIS, retired generals have told G2 Bulletin they are concerned that the United States may go it alone, according to a new report in Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

They ask which allies, if any, will join a coalition and attempt to work with a Libyan government that barely exists.

At a news conference last week, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. said the U.S. is “looking to take decisive military action” against ISIS in Libya and that a decision would be coming “in weeks” but “not hours.”

“It’s fair to say that we’re looking to take decisive military action against ISIS in conjunction with the political process” in Libya, Dunford said. “The president has made clear that we have the authority to use military force.”

ISIS is thought to have more than 3,000 fighters, with more flowing into Libya from Syria and Iraq, where the U.S., Russia and other countries have been carrying out intense airstrikes against the jihadist fighters.

Another ‘trillion-dollar failure’?

In October 2011, the U.S., France and Britain launched attacks that led to the overthrow of the government of Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi. Since then, the country has not had a functional government. Warring factions of local jihadist groups are preoccupied fighting among themselves for dominance rather than taking on ISIS or coming together to form a government of national accord.

U.S. action in Libya, retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney told G2Bulletin in an email, “is the last thing we need to do!”

“Why spend (a trillion dollars) for another COIN (counterinsurgency) failure?”

Retired U.S. Adm. James Lyons Jr., who served as commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet from 1985-1987, told G2Bulletin that McInerney’s concern about the possibility of unilateral U.S. action is “Spot on!”

Retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul E. Vallely expressed similar concerns to G2Bulletin, concluding Dunford’s comments represent a military invasion by the Obama administration.

“I can’t even see Obama taking any offensive action anywhere like that,” Vallely said.

Vallely is chairman of the non-profit Stand Up America and the private Citizens’ Commission on Benghazi, which is looking into the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi.

He said that if there is to be any such military action, it needs to include Egypt, which bombed ISIS locations in Libya after the February 2015 beheading of some 21 Libyan Coptic Christians who were working in the country.

Vallely also thought the Russians could join, especially if asked by Egypt, since Moscow has just concluded a $2 billion military arms deal with Cairo that includes helicopters, fighter jets, Kornet anti-tank weapons, the anti-ballistic missile system Antey-2500 and the Buk-2 surface-to-air missile system.

Is a Secret Sniper Killing off ISIL High Command in Libya?
Mystery gunman credited with shooting three of the terror group's leaders in their new "Caliphate" in Colonel Gaddafi's home city of Sirte

By Colin Freeman, Chief foreign correspondent
3:08PM GMT 29 Jan 2016

As befits all the best practitioners of his shadowy trade, no-one is quite sure whether he is one man or many, or even simply an urban legend.

But after a string of assassinations of its local henchmen, the Islamic State's new "Caliphate" in the Libyan city of Sirte is abuzz with talk that an anti-Isil sniper is at work.

In recent weeks, no fewer than three Isil commanders in Sirte have been shot dead from long range, according to local media.

The killings - reported to be the work of a sniper who honed his skills in Libya’s uprising against Colonel Gaddafi - are said to have sowed panic among Isil's forces in the city, who have carried a string of arrests and executions in a bid to track down the culprit.

The Sirte assassin's most recent casualty, according to social media reports from Sirte, was Abdullah Hamad Al-Ansari, an Isil commander from southern Libyan city of Obari, who was shot dead on January 23 as he left a city centre mosque.

The birthplace of Libya's late Colonel Gaddafi, Sirte has been under Islamic State control since last summer, Libyan intelligence officials estimating that there may now be up to 2,000 jihadist fighters now based there.

The port city’s new masters have made brutal examples of opponents, via a regime of floggings and beheadings enforced by black-masked religious police.

But while the group's leaders now enjoy unchallenged rule on the streets, that does not appear to have left them immune to long-range attack from Sirte's many battle-scarred buildings.

Tales of the mystery marksman are believed to have found a ready audience among the city's population, few of whom actively support the city's new hardline rulers.

The morale-raising effect of his exploits has echoes of the 2001 film 'Enemy at the Gates', in which Jude Law plays the Soviet Union's top sniper against Hitler's armies in the Battle of Stalingrad.

The film has since gained large fan club among fighting men in the Arab world, and such is its hero's warrior allure that one Syrian rebel group fighting President Bashar al-Assad named their top sharpshooter "Sniper Moscow" in his honour.

In similar fashion, locals in Sirte apparently relished the panic caused in Isil’s ranks when Hamad Abdel Hady, a Sudanese official in Isil's newly-convened Sharia court, was felled by a sniper's bullet outside a hospital earlier this month.

One eye witness told the al-Wasat website: "A state of terror prevailed among the Isil ranks after his death. They randomly shot in the air to scare inhabitants, while searching for the sniper."

The identity of the mystery marksman - if indeed it is just one - is now the subject of frenzied online discussion. Many believe he may be a militiaman from the neighbouring city of Misrata, whose security forces fought Isil for control of Sirte in the early part of last year but eventually pulled out.

Misratan commanders say they still maintain networks of informants and agents in the city, despite Isil subjecting all spies to crucifixion.

Adding to the sense of intrigue is speculation that the sniper might be a American special forces soldier, some of whom are thought to be operating in the region to gather intelligence on the Isil presence.

However, in a city where little reliable information is currently available, there is a more mundane possibility - namely that reports of the sniper and his exploits may be simply the product of wishful thinking among Sirte's unhappy residents.
“Western Insanity”: Momentum Grows to Bomb Libya Again … This Time against the “Islamic State” (ISIS)
By Chris Cole
Global Research, January 30, 2016
Drone Wars UK 28 January 2016

Despite the catastrophic effects of the 2011 military intervention, momentum seems to be growing among western governments for further air strikes in Libya, this time against ISIS.

When asked by the Telegraph last month if Libya could be the next target for British military intervention, a British Government source said: “Things are moving in that direction. We are taking it one step at a time.”  Military sources subsequently briefed the media that US and British Special Forces were in Libya gathering intelligence to prepare for a possible deployment of up to 6,000 US and European troops (this despite the oft-repeated line ‘we never talk about Special Forces’).  More recently, the New York Times reported that surveillance flights over Libya were to be stepped up and US diplomats and officials have been meeting with European and North African governments to ask them to join a new coalition against ISIS in Libya.

Unity Government

These military and diplomatic moves coincide with an international push to persuade various factions within Libya to form a new unity government.  The new government is intended to replace the two governments already vying for control: the internationally recognised government, the House of Representatives, based in Tobruk in the northeast, and the General National Congress, based in Tripoli in the northwest.  It appears that once the unity government is installed, it will call for security assistance which will then give legal cover for strikes against ISIS.

The UN-brokered deal to set up a unity government, signed at Skhirat in Morocco in December, created a Presidential Council – based in Tunisia – which will form a Government of National Accord.  However, this week the House of Representatives the current recognised government has rejected the new government put forward by the Presidential Council.  This has caused huge consternation and there will now be enormous pressure brought to bear to ensure they back down and accept a new government.

However, even if the moves to form a new unity government fail (and there is then no subsequent call for security assistance) it is likely that US would still push for military intervention.  Last week General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, reiterated the need for “decisive military action” against ISIS in Libya.  The Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni, while arguing that the forming of a unity government was still the priority, signalled that even if this failed military action should take place:

If in a few months we will sombrely have to admit that the Libyans have renounced this scenario then surely an anti-Isis coalition such as the one in Iraq and Syria will have to be formed…

Drones over Derna

Although the push for military intervention in Libya against ISIS has ratcheted up since the Paris attacks, US military operations have been on-going in Libya, with US drones flying over the country since the end of the NATO intervention.  In 2013, the Libyan government reportedly came under “intense American pressure” to allow drones strikes against Al Qaeda in the east of the country.  Although permission was refused, drone surveillance flights continued and the US has recently been seeking to locate its drones nearer to Libya so they can have even more time over the country.  Last year, photographs purporting to show a crashed Predator drone in Libya circulated on social media and US military reported one of its had drones ditched in the Mediterranean after it encountered problems flying on “a mission in Africa.”

The Italian air force have also operated its Reaper drones – based in Amendola in Southern Italy –  over Libya.  Publicly at least we know about flights during the NATO intervention in 2011 and more recently during the evacuation of the Italian embassy in February 2015.  In November 2015 the US agreed to Italy’s request to arm its Reaper drones.

Other US intervention in Libya post-2011

But it’s not just drones that have been active over Libya.  In October 2013, US Special Forces entered Libya to capture Al Qaeda suspect Anas al Libi.  He was subsequently charged with terrorism offenses but died in prison before standing trial. A few months later in June 2014, the US undertook another raid and captured Ahmed Abu Khattala, wanted in connection with the attack on the US diplomatic compound in Benghazi.

Last year the US launched two bombing raids in Libya to kill specific individuals.  In June, two US F-15 flew from the UK on a mission to kill Mokhtar Belmokhtar, an Algerian veteran jihadist. The F-15s dropped “multiple 500-pound bombs” on a building outside the Libyan town of Ajdabiya, reportedly killing seven men in the strike but leaving Belmokhtar alive. In November– coincidentally on the same day as the ISIS attack in Paris – a further bombing raid targeted Abu Nabil, named as the ISIS leader in Libya. In December, photographs of US Special Forces arriving at Wattiya airbase in Libya appeared. The Pentagon confirmed the deployment but stated (apparently with a straight face) that the US forces had subsequently left Libya “to avoid conflict”


Einstein’s aphorism as to the insanity of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results undoubtedly applies to the US military interventions in Iraq and Libya. The actions to topple Saddam Hussein and Mummar Gaddafi, supposedly to enhance the safety and security of their populations and the world beyond, failed spectacularly.

Rather than accepting the failure of military intervention, it’s argued that the Iraq mission failed because western forces stayed too long, while the Libya mission failed because western forces did not stay long enough.  The denials and buck-passing by those responsible (witness the recent cross-examination of former British ministers about the 2011 Libyan intervention and its disastrous aftermath by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee) is embarrassing.

No one doubts the real threat of ISIS to the people of Iraq, Libya and beyond.  Yet no one can doubt that ISIS was in part created by the US intervention in Iraq (as even arch-military interventionist Tony Blair accepts) and had no presence in Libya before the NATO intervention of 2011.

The alternative to such military intervention is to undertake real and lasting political change that addresses the underlying problem of global political and economic inequality which feeds terrorism and insecurity. But calls for such structural changes are rejected and resisted by those who benefit from the current system, in favour of ‘bombing the bad guys’ – lidism as Professor Paul Rogers rightly describes it.  Such a strategy, as we have seen over the past 25 years does far more harm than good.  And is only likely to do so again.

The original source of this article is Drone Wars UK.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Long Before Helping Flint, Michigan Officials Were Shipping Clean Water to Their Own Workers
By Julia Lurie
Mother Jones
Thu Jan. 28, 2016 5:35 PM EST

According to newly discovered emails, Michigan officials were trucking clean water to a state building in Flint in January 2015, long before they acknowledged to residents that the city had a contamination problem.

One of the emails, which were obtained by the group Progress Michigan, was sent from the state Department of Technology, Management, and Budget. It reads, "While the City of Flint states that corrective actions are not necessary, DTMB is in the process of providing a water cooler on each occupied floor, positioned near the water fountain, so you can choose which water to drink. The coolers will arrive today and will be provided as long as the public water does not meet treatment requirements."

The email was sent just days after the city sent out an advisory about high levels of trihalomethanes in its water but maintained that, for healthy individuals, the water was safe to drink. Residents had been reporting smelly, tainted water and adverse health conditions related to it since shortly after Flint switched water sources in April 2014.

Until October 2015, the administration of Gov. Rick Snyder maintained that it was unaware of high levels of lead in Flint's water. Progress Michigan's Lonnie Scott says the emails "blow a hole in the governor's timeline for when they knew or started to have concerns about Flint water. They were helping state employees while telling everyone else that there was nothing to worry about."

An administration representative was not immediately available for comment.
EPA: High Lead Levels in Flint Exceed Filters' Rating
Matthew Dolan, Detroit Free Press
9:55 p.m. EST January 29, 2016

Flint water lead level announcement
Photo: Flint Mayor Karen Weaver addressed reporters at a press conference on Friday, Jan. 29, 2016 to announce elevated lead levels found in water samples in the city that exceeded the rated ability of water filters handed out to residents

Local, state and federal officials Friday evening urged all Flint residents to get their water tested for lead after recent samples exceeded levels that can be effectively treated by water filters handed out to residents.

"It is essential that all Flint residents have the water in their homes tested as soon as possible," Gov. Rick Snyder said in a news release Friday. "Please make it a priority for your family and encourage your friends and neighbors to obtain testing kits as well. The kits are available free of charge at the water resource sites within Flint fire stations."

Pregnant women and children under 6 should continue to drink only bottled water at least until the additional testing at the affected homes with elevated lead levels is complete, according to federal officials.

Water testing kits are available at City Hall and all Flint fire stations. Residents do not need to test their own water. Officials said they may fill up the testing bottle and return it to where it was obtained. Residents with questions can call the United Way's helpline at 211.

The disclosure on Friday of higher lead levels at 26 sites come months after the city switched back to the Detroit water system after a disastrous change to using Flint River water. The original switch in mid-2014 was followed almost immediately by complaints from residents about discolored, pungent water that had caused a number of ailments. Local and state officials insisted for months the water was safe to drink but reversed course after independent testing discovered unsafe lead levels throughout the system believed to be caused by leaching from lead piping.

"Understandably, residents here are scared,"  Dr. Nicole Lurie, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the federal Department of Health and Human Services, said at the news conference.

In the recent testing overseen by state and federal environmental protection officials, extremely high lead level levels were found in 26 samples of more than 4,000 collected. The samples had lead levels that exceeded 150 parts per billion. The lead filters distributed to residents and business in Flint by officials has a certified rating by the NSF International to treat water with up to 150 parts of lead per billion.

The 26 samples from unfiltered water collected since late December from around the city ranged between 153 parts per billion and more than 4,000 parts per billion. If tap water contains lead at levels exceeding action level by the federal Environmental Protection Agency of 15 parts per billion, the federal Centers for Disease Control recommends taking action to minimize exposure to the lead in the water, although no level of lead is considered safe.

There was no concentrated area with spiked lead levels in Flint in the most recent round of testing, officials said. All of the affected residents have been notified by health officials.

"So this obviously raises concerns," Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said at the news conference. "While the number of homes tested is still small, there is still concern, and I feel it is important for the residents of Flint to hear these residents and hear from experts about what these results mean."

Federal officials are not completely sure why recent samples came back with lead levels well above what can be handled by home filters. "We'll be doing more testing this whole week to figure out why," Lurie said

Despite the findings, environmental officials did not call on residents in Flint to stop using the filters to treat water. Instead, they said the filters should still work to treat the majority of water, which has been tested to be below 150 parts per billion. They asked everyone who has not had their water tested to have it tested immediately.

Test results usually take about three days, officials said.

Lurie said that Dr. Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech lead expert who had help confirm the extent of Flint's original water crisis, told federal officials today  that the filters being used in Flint may actually be able to treat water with levels above 150 parts per billion based on a similar, early crisis over lead in water in Washington, D.C.

The newly discovered elevated lead levels do not mean that the filters are not performing as expected. "They are performing well," she said. "But it does mean we need to do additional testing at homes above 150 parts per billion.

Officials added that other experts have found that the filters may be able to treat water with lead above 150 parts per billion, even though the filters are not rated to be effective above that level.

Flint is under a state of emergency after highly corrosive water in the Flint River was temporarily used as the city's drinking water source. Experts have voiced some concern about the use of home water filter devices because the filters need to replaced on a regular basis.

Local officials said Friday they were encouraged by the quick turnaround of the discovery of elevated lead levels and disclosure to elected leaders and the public.

“Today’s announcement reaffirms that having EPA, CDC and HHS personnel on the ground in Flint is leading to a more transparent and effective response, and more accurate information for city residents," state Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, said in a news release:"Many questions still remain regarding the state's ability to manage this crisis and only highlights the need for a continued and amplified federal role.”

CDC is the Centers for Disease Control and HHS stands for Health and Human Services.

Contact Matthew Dolan: 313-223-4743 or Follow him on Twitter @matthewsdolan
Flint’s Water Crisis: What Does the Future Hold for a Poisoned City?
Joanna Slater visits Flint, Mich., and finds residents reeling from a botched attempt to cut costs – one that has left them fearful of what lies ahead for their children, and united in their mistrust of government

The Globe and Mail
Friday, Jan. 29, 2016 2:47PM EST

On a cold Tuesday afternoon, Kiara Settle walks into the gym at Eisenhower Elementary School, sits down on a set of bleachers and begins bouncing her two-year-old son Kristian on her lap. The room is loud with music and the happy shouts of children. A local health-care company is giving out balloons twisted into the shapes of swords and crowns. On the other side of the room, volunteers are serving sandwiches, juice packets and bags of chips.

While the kids run around and dance, the adults are watchful. They recognize this gathering for what it is: not a school event or a community get-together, but a way to gauge the level of lead in their children’s blood. Outside the gym, a line of parents waiting for the necessary forms stretches into the adjacent auditorium. Down the hallway, children shuttle in and out of a classroom where health workers prick their fingers with needles.

Before starting to talk, Ms. Settle, 24, takes a steadying breath. Kristian was born in 2013, the year before Flint switched the source of its water supply in order to save money. That decision, combined with negligence by government authorities, allowed lead – a toxin that can cause brain damage, particularly in children – to leach from pipes and faucets into the city’s drinking water. Nearly 18 months would pass before any official warning about the risks.

Unlike in some other homes, Ms. Settle’s water never turned brown; until several months ago, she was using it for cooking, baths, to brush teeth and occasionally to drink. Back in October, Kristian had his first test for lead – and the doctor informed her that the results showed an elevated level in his blood. Kristian, a toddler with wide eyes and a toothy grin, squirms as she speaks. Ms. Settle begins to cry.

“I’m hurt, I’m angry,” she says. “Any damage is irreversible. My baby didn’t have a chance out of the gate.”

Born and raised in Flint, Ms. Settle wants to leave the city behind, and maybe move to Grand Blanc, a nearby suburb. “I don’t think it’s safe for my children to be here,” she says, wiping tears from her cheeks. “They should be able to drink the water, to bathe in the water.”

In some ways, this is a quintessentially American town: built to greatness on the back of the car industry, hollowed out by the decline of manufacturing, plagued by high rates of poverty and crime and unemployment – but trying, slowly and haltingly, to recover.

Then came the water crisis.

Canada's track record on water oversight isn't always that great. Bill Curry explains who's in charge of Canada's water and how quality control has failed in the past.

Flint – a poor city, a majority African-American city – had found itself at the mercy of decisions made by an unelected official, an emergency manager, whose goal was to cut costs. Then the complaints of its citizens about the quality of the water were repeatedly dismissed, belittled or ignored: Residents protested that their drinking water looked, smelled and tasted awful, only to be told by their mayor and state officials that it was perfectly fine. That kind of lack of concern, some say, could have happened only in a city disadvantaged by the race and class of its citizens.

In this fractious political season, 10 months before a presidential election, there is unanimity that what happened in Flint was a betrayal of the most basic functions of government. Last week, representatives of a right-wing militia in Michigan – who rarely set foot in this heavily Democratic city – handed out bottles of water on the street in a show of support. Candidates from both major parties, who agree on little else – Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton – have expressed their outrage.

For the 100,000 residents of this beleaguered midwestern city, already struggling with high rates of poverty and crime, the future is filled with unanswerable questions. No one is sure when the water will be safe to drink again, or how much it will cost to repair the city’s infrastructure to ensure public health. It is unclear how many people, tired of lies and neglect and worry, will move out of the city. And most of all, it is impossible to quantify, for now, the true extent of the exposure to lead among the city’s children.

“The bottled water, the filters – that’s a Band-Aid,” says Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician in Flint who played a central role in exposing the water crisis. “We need to think about tomorrow, because this is an issue that we will be dealing with for a long time to come.”

“Our kids have every obstacle to their success,” she says. “And then we gave them lead.”

That a man-made disaster should strike Flint is a source of deep anger and grim humour to its residents, who have grown accustomed to misfortune.

“It’s like they’re trying to knock us out; that’s how it feels,” says Ryan Thorn, 27, a lifelong resident of the city. “Whether it’s systemic or an accident, that doesn’t do anything to soften the blow.”

Investigations are under way into what state and federal authorities knew, why they failed to respond promptly, and whether their actions were illegal and possibly criminal. But alongside the issues of illegality are questions about a failure of the political system.

The roots of the crisis go back to October, 2013, when Rick Snyder, Michigan’s Republican governor, appointed an emergency manager in Flint for the third time in three years. By law, the manager takes control of the city with the mandate to repair its dire finances.

To cut costs, the emergency manager approved a change in the water supply, from Detroit, an hour to the south, to the Flint River. Chia Morgan, 29, a local social worker, says the switch became the butt of jokes among her friends. The Flint flows right through town and was considered a polluted relic of the city’s industrial past. When people start acting crazy, Ms. Morgan and her friends said, it’ll be because of that Flint River water.

After the switch in April, 2014, people immediately noticed the difference. The water smelled like rotten eggs, Ms. Morgan says, at times with a yellowish tinge, like “the colour of butter on grits.” Another resident said the water had an odour like a science project gone wrong; others said it would turn cloudy, or reddish, or brown. Some people got strange rashes, or broke out in hives.

At various points in 2014, state authorities instructed people in Flint to boil their water, since they had detected the presence of E. coli. To tackle the bacteria, more chlorine was added. That led to the presence of trihalomethanes, or THMs, a carcinogenic by-product of chlorine. Elderly people and infants were advised to temporarily avoid drinking the water.

Those incidents were only the tip of the iceberg. Municipal water is often treated with anti-corrosion additives to keep it from wreaking havoc with older plumbing systems made of iron and lead. Yet, when Flint switched to its new water source, state authorities failed to ensure the continued use of such additives – even though the river water was several times more corrosive than the city’s previous supply. The result was that, with each passing day, the water corroded Flint’s aging plumbing, leaching iron and lead into the water supply.

During that period, there was also a spike in cases of legionnaires’ disease, a bacterial infection that causes pneumonia. Ten people died. Officials are now investigating whether the outbreak can be traced to the change in drinking water.

On a recent morning, Dr. Hanna-Attisha sweeps into the pediatric emergency ward of Flint’s Hurley Medical Center clutching a large coffee. The daughter of Iraqi immigrants, she arrived in the U.S. at the age of 5 and grew up in Royal Oak, a suburb of Detroit. Ever since a fateful dinner party back in August, the water crisis has taken over most of her waking hours.

On that evening, Dr. Hanna-Attisha was enjoying an impromptu reunion with two friends from high school. One of them – a water expert who used to work for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – pulled her aside. Had she been following the reports of lead in Flint’s drinking water issued by researchers at Virginia Tech? Dr. Hanna-Attisha had no idea what her friend was talking about.

Alarmed, she resolved to seek out answers. The State of Michigan wouldn’t make available its data on lead levels in children’s blood, so her hospital’s research department found an alternative. Hurley acts as a clearinghouse for blood samples from around the city, sending them to laboratories and receiving the results. Dr. Hanna-Attisha and a colleague analyzed that data, which they believe represents about 70 per cent of the testing performed on children in the city. They worked late into the night, checking and rechecking their numbers.

A month later, she was ready to share her findings with the public. On Sept. 24, she stepped up to the podium at a packed press conference and announced her results: The percentage of Flint children with elevated levels of lead in their blood had jumped after the switch to the new water source. In some areas, the percentage of children with elevated levels had doubled or tripled; in one hard-hit ward northwest of downtown, 15 per cent of children had elevated readings.

Dr. Hanna-Attisha believes, however, that the data used in her research underestimates the exposure: Lead in water has a greater impact on infants, and routine testing doesn’t start until age 1. Later that afternoon, the spokesman for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, which is responsible for ensuring the safety of drinking water, denounced her research and called Dr. Hanna-Attisha an “unfortunate” researcher who was stoking hysteria.

A few hours later, she was at her daughter’s school for a curriculum night. She recalls feeling “physically ill” – her heart was racing, her hands shook. When she got home, she curled up in bed, full of self-doubt.

“When the state tells you that you’re wrong, how can you not second-guess yourself?” she recalled. “They have a team of 50 epidemiologists. This was me and my co-worker.”

The press conference created a public outcry. While a handful of activists, parents and academics had warned of rising amounts of lead in Flint’s water, no one had looked at the impact on all the city’s children. Now a well-known doctor in the community was confirming residents’ worst fears.

One person paying close attention to Dr. Hanna-Attisha’s conclusions was Bilal Tawwab, the school superintendent in Flint. He immediately thought of his obligation to protect the 5,500 children in his care. Then he wondered how on earth his financially strapped school district – already attempting to eliminate a deficit – was going to pay for bottled water. Two days after the press conference, Mr. Tawwab had all the water fountains in Flint public schools shut off or blocked. (In the hallway outside his office, there is one covered in tape.)

And then, one week after it rejected Dr. Hanna-Attisha’s findings, the state reversed course. Health authorities said that their data confirmed the trend evident in her research. It is unclear why they did not sound an alarm earlier. Around the same time, they began to test the water in the schools. The federal standard for taking action on lead in water is a level above 15 parts per billion. Three schools in Flint had water above that level, Michigan authorities said in October. One, Freeman Elementary, reported a sample with 101 parts per billion.

Bruce Lanphear, a professor at Simon Fraser University who is an expert in environmental toxins, says that “the particular tragedy of Flint is that it was wholly preventable with very little cost.” From the kind of lead exposures seen in Flint, Prof. Lanphear says he would expect to see an increase in low-birth-weight babies and miscarriages. Then, when today’s infant and toddlers enter school, he says, “You’ll start to pick up some of the kids struggling a little bit with reading and math and behavioural issues.”

“You may not notice it if you don’t look for it,” he adds. But “this is sufficient elevation [of blood-lead levels] that you would, if you measure it, find a noticeable difference in the reading levels or intellectual abilities” in this cohort of children compared with prior ones.

There is no treatment to reverse lead poisoning, only interventions that can mitigate its impact. In some cases, they’re the same things that should bolster the development of any child – good nutrition; high-quality, universal preschool; early literacy programs. In other cases, they will be special services for children who need extra help.

I ask Mr. Tawwab if he is confident schools will get the financial resources they need to support kids who have had elevated levels of lead in their blood. He smiles ruefully and tells me to check back in two months.

“You’re talking about potentially a generation of kids – that’s huge,” he says. “It definitely keeps you up at night.”

Along Flint’s uneven roads, dotted with potholes, there are new signs telling motorists to reduce their speed: Water Pickup Ahead. All the city’s fire stations, together with a number of its churches and government offices, are now water-distribution points. At Fire Station 3 on Martin Luther King Avenue, members of the National Guard in camouflage uniforms and combat boots – all volunteers from other parts of Michigan – carry cases of bottled waters for the elderly and infirm.

KeyKey Phillips, 37, walks back to her car with a case on her hip. “It’s just horrible to know your city did this to you,” she says. She and her mother, who is 58 and has suffered two strokes, recently watched a movie made in Nigeria, which she found enlightening, in an ironic way. “They have to walk to the river to go get the nasty water, then figure out a way to purify it,” she adds.

Ms. Phillips is using bottled water for all her cooking and to bathe her three-year-old daughter, while she takes quick, cold showers (lead levels are likely to be higher in hot water). “All I want is a major fix,” she says. “Just fix it.”

In mid-October, Flint switched its water source back to the Detroit system. But lead levels in the water remain elevated in some homes because of the earlier corrosion. Authorities are handing out filters and lead-testing kits, but the confidence in the efficacy of such measures is non-existent: Many residents I spoke with didn’t believe the filters actually worked to remove all of the lead, a reflection of their mistrust in any assertion by the government.

Daniel Giammar, a professor of environmental engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, says that returning to the Detroit water, which is treated with anti-corrosion additives, will help the pipes start to repair themselves, but the process will take time. “In terms of getting back to where you were, one year is not unreasonable,” he says.

Prof. Giammar adds that, while Flint is a cautionary tale, he would love to see it turned into an example. “Flint would be a nice case for the U.S. to say, ‘It’s not that big of a city, let’s see what the benefits are of removing every lead pipe in Flint.’”

Dr. Hanna-Attisha also believes that, with the right combination of resources and effort, Flint could defy the worst-case scenarios for its future. She is helping to build a public-health initiative that will assess the extent of the lead exposure, monitor its consequences and intervene to lessen its impact.

She recently spoke with Karen Weaver, Flint’s newly elected mayor. “Like me, she feels that we can flip this,” says Dr. Hanna-Attisha. “Sometimes you need a disaster to rise from the ashes, and I see that’s what’s going on right now.”

On the streets of Flint, however, there is no such optimism. Ryan Thorn, who lives with his wife, Krystle, and his seven-year-old stepdaughter, says the family wants to leave to city or find a house with its own well: “It’s really just a nightmare that nobody’s waking up from any time soon.”

The apologies from Gov. Snyder don’t feel sincere, he adds, not after the neglect that made an entire community feel “unwanted,” he says. “We feel ‘less than,’ ” interjects Ms. Thorn.

One afternoon, I run into a federal official who is part of the emergency-response team now in Flint and asks not to be identified. I ask him how the government can regain the confidence of the people of Flint. “If you figure it out, will you let me know?” he asks. It was only partly in jest.

He says he believes that, in a wealthier community, one with greater political power, the original decision to switch to the Flint River – a manifestly lower-quality source of water – would never have happened in the first place.

Back at the lead-testing event at the elementary school, Marguita Hall, 28, is filling out the forms for her five children, the youngest nine months and the oldest age 10. Two of them, Jalon, 8, and Jakayia, 6, have already tested positive for elevated levels, months ago.

Ms . Hall watches as Jakayia, her braids in pigtails, runs around the gym and dances to the music. “I don’t think that there’s no solution to it,” she says. “There’s no certain way to get it out of the kids. You gotta pay for water that you can’t drink. We don’t even feel like we’re in America. Everyone has it better than us and they’re watching us struggle.”

Joanna Slater is the U.S. business correspondent for The Globe and Mail.
Uncertainty Haunts Parents of Flint, As Every Rash, Every Tantrum Raises Alarms
JANUARY 29, 2016

FLINT, Mich. — Uncertainty haunts the mothers and fathers of Flint.No one can tell them how much toxic lead their children may have ingested from polluted drinking water over the past two years.And no one can say for certain what health effects might stem from that exposure. Is the lead to blame for this headache? For that bald spot? For a sudden spate of violent tantrums? Might a child who seems fine now have suffered subtle brain damage that could affect his grades and behavior down the road?

“When I think about my kids and what might happen to them, I can’t sleep,” said Laura Darch, a Flint native who checks her three boys, ages 9, 7, and 5, each day for rashes. Darch has recently sought treatment for intense anxiety and depression. She feels guilty that she let her sons drink from their school water fountains. She can’t stop thinking of how those sips might set back their development.“I don’t feel safe,” she said. “I have never felt so unsafe in my life.”

Recognizing the fear pervading this community, physicians and school officials are offering residents tests for lead exposure. But those tests aren’t likely to reveal much.Many families have been drinking bottled water since discovering last year that there was lead in the city’s water; results will reflect that.

Lead, a neurotoxin, doesn’t circulate long in the blood before it’s absorbed into bones and other organs or excreted. So a test taken today won’t show how much lead a child ingested a year ago, or what her peak exposure might have been.

Volunteers and inmates in a work detail hand out cases of bottled water to residents of Flint.Nor is there any way to definitively link an individual’s exposure to a specific health concern — past, present, or future. All that’s known is that lead exposure can damage multiple organs and the brain, even at very low doses.

Children are particularly vulnerable and once harm has occurred, the impact cannot be reversed.“When a child presents with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, behavioral problems, or intellectual deficits five years from now, I’ll never be certain if it was from the lead or another reason,” said Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician whose research on children’s blood lead levels helped call attention to Flint’s water crisis. “When I look into a mom’s eyes,” she said, “that uncertainty is a great cause of anxiety.”

The entire community is suffering from toxic stress, Hanna-Attisha said, and needs mental health first aid to cope with this crisis. But services are few and far between, especially for children.

Life in Flint was already hard before the city’s switch in April 2014 from Detroit’s water system to the Flint River exposed residents to lead, E. coli bacteria, and a cancer-causing byproduct of chlorine.

More than 41 percent of the city’s nearly 100,000 residents are impoverished, unemployment is endemic, 15 percent of homes are boarded up or abandoned, and the murder rate is one of the highest in the nation. Dilapidated buildings and overgrown lots abound.

Now, evidence of government negligence has raised residents’ distress to an even higher level. Officials failed to add anticorrosive agents to water from the Flint River; as a result, old pipes throughout the city began to leach lead into the water supply. For 18 months, residents’ complaints about discolored, foul smelling, and strange tasting water were dismissed or ignored. Officials assured people repeatedly that the water was safe.

Though Flint returned to Detroit’s water system in October, the damage to the city’s aging infrastructure — and its sense of trust in government — was extensive. The US Justice Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Michigan Attorney General are conducting investigations.

“Our lives are already so hard. Why would they do this to us?” asked Bethany Hazard, 59, breaking into tears. Hazard lives alone and is disabled by painful osteoarthritis, which she said has become much worse over the last year and a half. “It’s like they just don’t care.”

“We screamed at the top of our lungs that the water was hurting us, and they called us crazy, irrational, fear mongerers,” said Florlisa Stebbins Fowler, 37, a single mom who became a community activist after her three children suffered inflamed skin after showering and diarrhea after drinking the water.

“My kids had it tough to begin with and to think that they’ve fought so hard to do well only to be poisoned by this water and possibly face additional damage — it’s unimaginable,” she said. Hanna-Attisha’s research found that 4.9 percent of Flint children under the age of 5 had elevated blood lead levels after the city began drawing water from the Flint River, compared with 2.4 percent before that switch.

In one ward, nearly 16 percent of young children had elevated lead levels, compared to just under 5 percent previously.   It was a stunning finding, which garnered immediate attention — and a backlash from state officials — when Hanna-Attisha presented the results publicly last September. But she believes it almost certainly underestimates the problem.

Elizabeth Tramble worries about the long-term effects of Flint’s water on her children.In part, that’s because blood tests don’t capture the extent of past exposure to lead. Also, available data exclude even more vulnerable populations — pregnant women, infants in utero, and babies who are fed formula, typically mixed with tap water, in the first few months of life.

The county health department doesn’t test lead levels in adults, either, though they, too, can suffer adverse health effects, including elevated blood pressure, altered kidney function, and declines in cognitive function. On top of the lead, residents suspect other contaminants in the river.

Ten people in Flint have died from Legionnaire’s Disease, a lung infection caused by bacteria that thrives in water, since the city began using the Flint River for drinking water. “We’re not just worried about the lead, we’re worried about everything that’s in the water, and they haven’t come clean about that yet,” said Bill Hammond, 58, a retired industrial hygienist who contracted two serious infections after the city changed its water supply.

Elizabeth Tramble, 27, drank Flint River water for seven months during a recent pregnancy, until her older sister Egypt convinced her the health risks were too great. While her baby Lorenna, now 5 months old, seems fine, Tramble doesn’t know if she’ll suffer long-term impacts from the exposure.In the meantime, Tramble —a single mother with five girls under the age of 9 — is worried about her 5-year-old, Nevaeh.“She’s very defiant for nothing,” Tramble said last week, sounding tired.

“She throws stuff. She acts out real bad. If I tell her ‘No, you can’t hold the baby,’ she just screams. She’s not minding in school. It’s like her attitude has changed and something is wrong with her mentally.”

Tramble’s stepfather, Ronnie Wexler, said he noticed a change in Navaeh last summer. “She didn’t used to be like that,” he said.Wexler is convinced that the city water has something to do with both Navaeh’s outbursts and the strange hair loss experienced by her 6-year-old sister, Tatinasia, who now has a softball-sized bald spot on the back of her head.

A doctor told Tramble last year that the little girl had a fungus, but medicine didn’t help and she has to wear a scarf to school to cover it up.

One of the most painful aspects of the crisis is that medical professionals have few answers for anxious residents.The only treatment for lead poisoning, chelation therapy, is used only in the most severe cases and isn’t appropriate for people with lower blood lead levels, like those seen in Flint.

So people are left to watch for symptoms. And to worry.Hanna-Attisha advises parents to make sure their kids are getting plenty of calcium, iron, and vitamins C and D; a diet rich in those nutrients can slow absorption of lead into bones and organs. But it can be hard to get a nutritionally balanced diet in Flint, which is so disadvantaged, it doesn’t even have a supermarket.The doctor is also pressing for more investment in services: expanded Head Start programs for toddlers, universal preschool, more food aid for mothers and infants, and mental health counseling.

“We cannot sit back,” she said. “We have to throw every evidence-based intervention at these kids now to mitigate possible damage.” Under Hanna-Attisha’s direction, and in partnership with Michigan State University, a new Pediatric Public Health Initiative will follow 9,000 Flint children under age 6 who were exposed to the city’s tap water in the past two years.

It’s likely that the children will be monitored regularly for years by pediatricians, psychologists, child development specialists, epidemiologists, educators, and other experts.None of that’s enough to give locals confidence in the future.

Tiffany Burene and her 8-year-old son have had health problems she believes stem from the contaminated water.Wishing for an escapeTiffany Burene, 33, has lived in Flint all her life, but now wants to leave.

She can’t, though, she said. She doesn’t have the money. Like many people in this city, Burene started drinking bottled water a year ago, after the city told residents that the tap water contained elevated levels of total trihalomethanes, a carcinogenic byproduct of chlorine.

But in August, she ran out of money and began drinking river water from the faucet again. Several days later, she awoke with her stomach cramping, rushed to the bathroom and found the toilet full of blood. An emergency room physician diagnosed colitis, a condition she hadn’t had previously.

“It scared me. And I still have stomach issues to this day,” said Burene, who also had a stretch of alarming hair loss last year.Nothing, however, has worried Burene so much as what’s happened to her 9-year-old son, Gabe, who was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and bipolar disorder at the age of 5.  “That little boy is my everything and I don’t know what’s going on,” Burene said. “Within the last year and a half, his ADHD has gotten worse. He gets very agitated and aggravated very easily. His anger outbursts are getting more frequent.”  It could be a new development stage Gabe is going through — or something else. Burene has no way of knowing.  

Tiffany Burene would leave Flint if she had the money.“I can’t say 100 percent it’s the lead, but nothing has changed in our household except the water and, honestly, that’s the only way I can put two and two together,” she said.

“No matter how many times I take my son to the pediatrician or a therapist, they never find anything.”Echoing other parents across Flint, Burene blames herself for not protecting her son, even though she could not have known about the lead leaching into the water. “Our kids don’t deserve this,” she said, “and it makes me feel like a failure as a parent.”
Flint Weighs Scope of Harm to Children Caused by Lead in Water
New York Times
JAN. 29, 2016

FLINT, Mich. — Quayana Towns’s 2-month-old daughter wriggled on an exam table last week as her pediatrician ticked off questions that have become essential for every parent of young children here.

“So what are you guys doing for water — what are you drinking?” asked the doctor, Mona Hanna-Attisha.

“I have a whole bunch of bottled water that I picked up,” said Ms. Towns, 26, assuring the doctor that the family had been drinking it for a few months, since the gravity of Flint’s water crisis came to light.

“And before that you were using tap water?”

“Yes,” Ms. Towns replied, as her other child, a 1-year-old, King, toddled around.

Dr. Hanna-Attisha would waste no time adding King and his sister, Taeyana, to a new database of children under 6 who may have been exposed to lead in Flint’s water, a group she said she believed could number 8,000.

Of all the concerns raised by the contamination of Flint’s water supply, and the failure of the state and federal governments to promptly address the crisis after it began nearly two years ago, none are more chilling than the possibility that children in this tattered city may have suffered irreversible damage to their developing brains and nervous systemsfrom exposure to lead.

New concerns surfaced Friday when officials said that recent tests of unfiltered tap water in Flint had found levels of lead in some samples higher than what filters distributed to residents were designed to remove.

Nicole Lurie, assistant secretary for preparedness and response for the United States Public Health Service, said 26 water samples, out of nearly 4,000 collected, contained lead at levels higher than 150 parts per billion. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends that lead in drinking water should be below 15 parts per billion.

Flint residents received filters designed to remove lead up to 150 parts per billion, Ms. Lurie said, adding that they could still be effective above that level.

“This does not mean that we think there’s a problem with the filters,” she said. “In fact, everything we know tells us that they are performing well.”

Still, she said, all residents should have their water tested as soon as possible. Officials also cautioned that children under 6 and pregnant women should use bottled water for drinking and preparing food.

Residents and advocates have expressed outrage over the government’s failure to protect Flint’s children, something many of them say would not have happened if the city were largely white. Adding to their injury, they say, are the harsh conditions of poverty that have already placed obstacles in their young lives.

At the same time, many are turning their attention to the future, when the effects of consuming lead-laced water for months may be all too evident.

At the center of those efforts is Dr. Hanna-Attisha, whose research documenting a spike in children’s blood lead levels forced dismissive government officials to acknowledge the water crisis last fall. With her colleagues at Hurley Children’s Hospital, where she directs the pediatric residency program, she is at the forefront of the scramble to put in place the resources so that every child who needs extra help learning or overcoming medical problems will have support for years to come.

Decades of research have found that exposure to even low levels of lead can profoundly affect children’s growth, behavior and intelligence over time. Studies have linked elevated lead levels in blood to learning disabilities, problems with attention and fine motor coordination, and even violent behavior.

Younger children and fetuses are especially vulnerable because of their developing brains and nervous systems, which is why the efforts here will focus on children 5 and younger.

Emails released by the office of Gov. Rick Snyder last week referred to a resident who said she was told by a state nurse in January 2015, regarding her son’s elevated blood lead level, “It is just a few IQ points. ... It is not the end of the world.” Dr. Hanna-Attisha and others who have studied lead poisoning have a sharply different view of lead exposure, for which there is no cure. “If you were going to put something in a population to keep them down for generations to come, it would be lead,” Dr. Hanna-Attisha said.

Underlying the problem are the troubling conditions prevalent among low-income children and their families in cities like Flint: spotty access to doctors and health care services; a dearth of healthy foods; living conditions so poor that many of the children may have already been exposed to lead poisoning from the paint in their homes; parents with limited time and financial resources.

The doctors here said they would focus on improving the diets of affected children and expanding education programs like Head Start, the federally funded preschool program for low-income children, which has a waiting list in Flint. Dr. Hanna-Attisha has submitted dozens of recommendations to the governor, state legislators and federal officials.

It remains a wish list at this point, but she and others believe that with Flint’s public health crisis in the national spotlight, the city’s chances of getting help are better than ever before.

Mr. Snyder and the State Legislature have so far allocated $28 million in emergency state spending for Flint. Some of the money will provide initial services, like health assessments and home visits from nurses, to lead-exposed children. Mr. Snyder has also asked the federal government to expand Medicaid to cover every Flint resident younger than 21, regardless of income level. And Democrats in Congress said on Thursday that they would seek $600 million in federal aid for Michigan to help Flint.

Local philanthropic groups have set up a charitable fund with the goal of improving health outcomes for children exposed to lead, including through Dr. Hanna-Attisha’s project, the Pediatric Public Health Initiative. Psychologists, nutritionists and child development experts are among the participants in the project, which Hurley is overseeing with Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine, where Dr. Hanna-Attisha is an assistant professor of pediatrics.

“We have a unique opportunity to build a model public health program here,” Dr. Hanna-Attisha said. “We have to throw every single evidence-based resource at these kids, starting now.”

It is impossible to gauge how each child will be affected, partly because the developmental effects of lead poisoning may take years to emerge. A flurry of lead testing has taken place since October, when the Genessee County Health Department finally declared a public health emergency. The agency told residents to stop drinking the water, which was coming from the Flint River, rather than Lake Huron, in an attempt to save money.

Experts say the testing may provide false reassurance. Most residents have probably switched to drinking bottled water, and since lead can be detected in the blood for only about a month, test results may not reflect the extent of their exposure.

“Our kids are already rattled by every kind of toxic stress you can think of,” Dr. Hanna-Attisha said. “Every single day in our clinic we have a 40 percent no-show rate, and it’s not because parents don’t love their children.”

She emphasized, however, that not every child exposed to lead would suffer ill effects. Kim Dietrich, a professor of environmental health at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, said that based partly on the blood lead levels of children in Dr. Hanna-Attisha’s study, he did not think serious long-term health problems would be widespread.

About 57 percent of Flint’s 99,000 residents are black, and 40 percent live in poverty, one of the highest rates in the nation for a city its size. Bilal Tawwab, the superintendent of the city school system, said that one school nurse serves the 5,400 students in the district, but that he hoped some of the money flowing into Flint might help open health centers in every school.

He also hoped to make prekindergarten available to every 4-year-old — spaces are limited — and to hire more experienced teachers for special education.

“That’s the piece that keeps me up at night,” he said. “It costs almost double to educate a student with special needs. And our wages, our salaries, are so low.”

Ruth Ann Norton, executive director of the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, based in Baltimore, said that even children who got intensive educational help after lead exposure might face lifelong obstacles.

“Even kids who are able to get through school, and even to get to college, they struggle,” she said. “And I will tell you that they are exhausted.”

Dr. Hanna-Attisha and others are urging families to feed their children foods rich in calcium, iron and vitamin C, which can help minimize the amount of lead their bodies absorb. Yet that raises another problem: Flint is a food desert, with no large grocery stores within the city limits.

Dr. Hanna-Attisha said that while lead was the primary concern, the researchers also worried about the effect of total trihalomethanes, or TTHMs, chemical compounds found in Flint’s water after the city pumped extra chlorine into the system to address bacteria problems after switching to river water. Some studies have linked TTHMs in water to higher miscarriage rates.

Many in Flint have had skin irritation and rashes in the past 18 months, which Dr. Hanna-Attisha attributes to the extra chlorine and TTHMs in the water. Because they were slow to make the connection, she and other doctors are trying to make up for it, with checkups for young children presenting a prime opportunity.

At Taeyana’s appointment, Dr. Hanna-Attisha held the baby’s face close to hers as she rattled off instructions that were the same as she had been giving for years, but were more urgent now.

“Her brain is growing so much from now until she’s 2,” she told Ms. Towns, “so this is when you want to read to her and sing to her and smile at her and tell her what you’re doing every minute.”

The family would return next week for King’s checkup, and his first lead test. For now, Ms. Towns is focused on getting through each day, making sure she has enough bottled water to prepare formula for Taeyana every two hours.

“Instead of them donating all this water, what can they do about the pipes?” she asked. “What can they do?”

Julie Bosman contributed reporting from Chicago.