Before he became Donald Trump's first-in-command Vice President Mike Pence was the governor of Illinois. A new report from the state revealed that during his tenure as governor, Pence denied Chicago a state of emergency to deal with a serious lead problem in the city's water supply. Mike Pence's lead contamination scandal could have been another Flint, but in his absence the city stepped up. Even still, lead contamination is not to be taken lightly. Romper reached out to Pence for comment but has not heard back.
Pence's successor, Eric Holcomb, issued a state of emergency as one of his first acts as governor so that Illinois' lead crisis can be dealt with. This decision comes as Flint, Michigan — a city that made headlines due to its own lead contamination crisis — still doesn't have clean water. The troubles in East Chicago have been around for almost two decades, but the extent of the lead contamination's effects wasn't known until testing revealed many children had high-levels of lead exposure.
Lead poisoning is a serious health condition that can ultimately be fatal if it goes untreated. If a family doesn't know that their house, for instance, has lead paint in it, or if their city's water supply has been contaminated by lead, poisoning can occur without anyone realizing it for quite some time. The symptoms and signs of lead poisoning can, unfortunately, be vague or look like other conditions, and it usually takes years for the effects to become severe. Kids are the most vulnerable, and their mental function can be permanently damaged by lead exposure.
This is just one of many reasons why prompt response by city and state governments to identify problems with lead, particularly in the water supply, is so vital. As the situation has shown, contamination of a water supply is a public health crisis that can have devastating and long-lasting effects on communities — and children are often hit the hardest.
When Pence denied the mayor of Chicago a state of emergency to deal with the city's water contamination crisis, his justification was that the state had done enough already, and that the financial resources just weren't there.
When something as serious as lead contamination is discovered, it's in the best interest of governments to protect public health by shifting priorities so that it can be addressed. But again, as is still being demonstrated by the situation in Flint, that often isn't the case. The areas that are heavily impacted by lead contamination are often low-income housing, and the families there often are living in abject poverty.
While the residents of East Chicago may be well on their way to clean water thanks to Holcomb's initiative, the damage may have already been done for many. Meanwhile, those in Flint have not been so fortunate: as of January, TIME reported that a year after the crisis made headlines, the majority of families in Flint still can't drink their water, and are relying on bottled water. According to reports from USA Today, over 8,000 children were exposed to lead in Flint's water supply.