Pregnancy rates dropped and the number of fetal deaths increased in Flint, Michigan, after the city switched its water source to the polluted Flint River in 2014, a new study finds.
The study found that fertility rates declined by 12 percent, while fetal death rates rose 58 percent after April 2014, according to a Sept. 21 report by the Detroit Free Press. Fetal deaths refer to instances where a fetus dies in the hospital after 20 weeks.
The 2014 water supply switch was aimed at saving money. The city's failure to add anti-corrosives to the water resulted in lead levels sharply increasing in the supply as the water corroded Flint's old pipes.
"Either flint residents were unable to conceive children, or women were having more miscarriages during this time," Professor David Slusky, one of the study's co-authors, said of the results.
Health and environmental officials only acknowledged the problem with the water supply in September 2015, several months after researchers presented state and federal officials with evidence to be of concern.
Slusky noted that while fertility rates in other Michigan cities remained relatively constant after April 2014, Flint's dropped dramatically.
"We weren't particularly surprised by this, but we didn't expect it be as clean and clear as it was," he added.
The researchers sought to rule out the possibility that people made a conscious decision not to have children because of the problems with lead in the water supply.
"During most of our time period, when the city and state officials were saying there was no problem, we didn't see any evidence of knowledge about lead in the water," added Slusky.
Virginia Tech researcher Marc Edwards played an important role in uncovering the water crisis.
In response to the study, Edwards said: "The magnitude of the adverse pregnancy outcome effect appears to be somewhat larger than I would have predicted, based on the water lead exposures that we think occurred -- but then again, what we think occurred is very often wrong."
Fifteen state and local officials have been criminally charged for their involvement in the water crisis.
Nick Lyon, director of Michigan's Department of Health and Human Services, faces charges of involuntary manslaughter and misconduct in office, MLive reports. A preliminary examination against Lyon began on Sept. 21. The case is based on the deaths of 12 people in Genesee County from Legionnaires' Disease.
Slusky explained that he hoped the findings of his study would help policymakers avoid a similar situation.
"We know monitoring the water, and putting the right types of anti-corrosives in it, is not free, is not cheap," he told the Detroit Free Press. "Now I've told you what the cost of not doing something is, and what the benefit is. That's the hope of this kind of research; quantify the benefit."