This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Even as authorities are still advising residents in Flint, Mich., not to drink or bathe in the city's tap water, leaving thousands to rely on bottled water to survive, some of the state's prominent political voices think Flint's water crisis may be exaggerated.
Foremost among them is Oakland County Republican Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who voiced skepticism about the severity of the crisis during an appearance before the Detroit Economic Club luncheon Tuesday, according to the Detroit Free Press.
"I don't think we should say or use words anymore like 'Flint's been poisoned,' " Patterson told reporters. "Because I don't think that's accurate."
"I've been using words like 'Flint's been poisoned,' and I won't use that anymore because I think the jury is out," he added.
According to the World Health Organization, "Lead affects children's brain development resulting in reduced intelligence quotient [IQ], behavioral changes such as shortening of attention span and increased antisocial behavior, and reduced educational attainment. Lead exposure also causes anemia, hypertension, renal impairment, immunotoxicity and toxicity to the reproductive organs. The neurological and behavioral effects of lead are believed to be irreversible."
As The Washington Post's Yanan Wang notes: "The Hurley Medical Center in Flint released a study in September that confirmed what many parents in the city had feared for more than a year: The proportion of infants and children with above-average levels of lead in their blood has nearly doubled since the city switched from the Detroit water system to using the Flint River as its water source in 2014."
Despite what many see as definitive evidence of a crisis, Patterson told the station he changed his mind after hearing a radio interview with Bill Ballenger, a well-known Republican political analyst, former state lawmaker and Flint resident, who said he was offering "the other side" of the story.
In the interview cited by Patterson, Ballenger said his own blood tests hadn't revealed elevated levels of lead. He wondered whether the crisis was a hoax, according to the Free Press. He argued that the crisis was instead perpetuated by politicians and members of the media "with an ax to grind."
"The idea that the entire population of Flint has been poisoned and that we all have elevated blood levels because of this is just a total canard," Ballenger told WJR. "It's just a crock, and for this to be perpetuated as a story is doing a lot of damage to Flint as a community."
Ballenger didn't deny that some people namely dozens of children have been exposed to lead poisoning.
"It's like 2 to 3 percent of the population. It is very unclear in many instances whether it came from the Flint River or if it came from other sources ... and a lot more study needs to be done," Ballenger said. "I live in Flint half the week. I've been drinking the water consistently without a filter all during this past two years when all this controversy has risen, and I have no effect from drinking the water myself, my neighborhood doesn't, nobody in the neighborhood does."
Within hours of voicing his skepticism, Ballenger was removed as a contributing writer for Inside Michigan Politics, "a newsletter that covers politics across the state," according to WWJ.