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Poor Tap Water Quality Experiences and Poor Sleep Quality During the Flint, Michigan Municipal Water Crisis


Sleep is an incredibly important biological function that everybody needs. Healthy sleep is so essential for helping the body stay healthy and keep away illnesses, and without enough high quality sleep, people can’t function properly. It’s known that the most common symptom of experiencing a traumatic event is sleep deprivation. In April 2014, the municipal water source for Flint, Michigan was changed from Lake Huron to the Flint River. Higher corrosiveness and inadequate water treatment resulted in water contamination, which led to residents complaining about the smell, taste, and appearance of water.


Despite concerns, officials insisted that the city water was safe, and changes were only made after residents had continued using their tap water for a long period of time. This occurrence can be traumatizing for several reasons, mainly due to the lack of immediate warning about the contamination, so community residents used the contaminated tap water for drinking, cleaning, and more. Going through this traumatic experience could have caused people to stay in a state of alertness, which ultimately decreases their ability to relax and have a restful night of sleep. 


The Speak to Your Health! (STYH) Community Survey is a community-based participatory project that monitors local health and health related concerns, observes the influence of health initiatives on health outcomes, and encourages change to improve the health of Genesee County residents. Following the Flint Water Crisis, the Survey Committee decided to include perceptions of tap water quality in the 2015 survey and investigate the relationship between n tap water quality and community mental health. This study looked into whether lower perceived tap water quality was associated with lower sleep quality and shorter sleep length. 


This survey could be completed as a hard copy form or an online questionnaire. Items included “How would you rate the quality (taste, smell, appearance) or your tap water? and “During the past month, how would you rate your sleep quality overall?” Both questions were rated from Excellent (5), Very Good (4), Good (3), Fair (2), or Poor (1). Another question asked “How many hours and minutes do you sleep during a typical night?”. 


Respondents rated their water quality as Poor (36%), Fair (18%), Good (20%), Very Good (17%), and Excellent (10%). They rated their sleep quality as Poor (12%), Fair (28%), Good (39%), Very Good (18%), and Excellent (4%). Controlling for age, sex, years of education, and whether respondents were African American or Hispanic/Latino/a, lower perceived water quality was associated with lower sleep quality and shorter sleep duration. 


These findings indicate that adverse health conditions related to the Flint Water Crisis include the mental health of adult residents. Most of the current public health response is focused on lead poisoning in children, and not enough attention is being focused on the effects the crisis had on the mental health of adults. The results of this study may be used by local community health advocates to demonstrate the need for the inclusion of services supporting mental health.

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