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Michigan mom feels "helpless" amid tainted water crisis

This week, more than 7,000 gallons of bottled water from FEMA arrived in the city
Flint, Michigan accused of ignoring lead-contaminated water 03:03

Flint, Michigan, is in a state of emergency, now months after high levels of lead turned up in its tap water. This week, more than 7,000 gallons of bottled water from FEMA arrived in the city.

When officials tapped into the Flint River for the city's drinking water, the strong chemicals used to clean the water caused lead from the pipes to leak into the supply, reports CBS News correspondent Adriana Diaz. By the time Flint went back to its original water source, families said the damage was already done.

"When I hear my son get up at night and cry because his bones hurt and there's nothing I can give him, there's nothing I can do for him to take away his pain,I feel completely helpless," Melisa Mays said.

For nearly five months, Mays and her family drank the water from their tap, unaware there was lead in it. Mays said she noticed a change in her three children: convulsions, skin lesions, memory and hair loss.

"My heart breaks, because fact of the matter is, I handed them the glasses of water," Mays said.

Last month, Mays and other Flint residents filed a civil lawsuit.

In court papers, they accused state and local officials of "not properly monitoring or sampling the Flint River water" and delaying "in notifying the public of serious safety and health risks." They went on to call the city's "deliberately false denials" about the safety of the water "deadly" and "arrogant."

"They continually said the water is safe to drink," Rhonda Kelso said.

The city's water problems started in the spring of 2014, when Flint moved its water supply from a source in Detroit to the Flint River. The switch was supposed to save the city about $15 million a year.

But the lead levels detected in Flint's children under the age of five nearly doubled, according to a study by a local medical center.

In October, city officials declared unfiltered water unsafe to drink. Shortly after, Flint switched back to the original Detroit water supply.

"Damage from lead is irreversible," Flint's new Mayor Karen Weaver said.

Weaver said the city needs to fix its decaying infrastructure.

"When we made that switch to the Flint water, we damaged the pipes. We already had very old infrastructure but there was no corrosion control in place," she said.

The World Health Organization declares any level of lead in the body unsafe and is particularly toxic to young children. Severe cases of exposure may cause mental disabilities and behavioral difficulties with irreversible neurological effects.

"I can make nightmares go away, I can make spiders go away. I can't fix this and I can't make this go away," Mays said.

Flint's mayor told CBS News that upgrading the city's infrastructure could cost $1 billion, but she hopes declaring a state of emergency will unlock additional state and federal funding. Gov. Rick Snyder has created a task force to review Flint's water crisis.

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