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flint water crisis

Flint's water crisis caused an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease

The city of Flint, Michigan, is still dealing with the fallout of its contaminated water crisis. In 2014, the city switched its water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River — and in addition to the resulting dangerously high levels of lead in the water, two studies published Monday revealed that the change in water supply also caused a massive outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in the city between 2014 and 2015.

The outbreak killed 12 people and affected at least 87, NPR reported. Eighty percent of those cases are thought to have been caused by the water change, revealed one study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Scientists theorize the bacteria that causes Legionnaire's thrived in the water from the Flint River water because that supply had lower levels of chlorine than the water from Lake Huron. Chlorine is one of the important killers of waterborne bacteria.

Chlorine is also known to interact differently with various metals, which means that the high lead levels in Flint's water might explain why the chlorine presence was so low — and why the Legionnaires' outbreak ended so quickly after Flint's water source switched away from the Flint River. Still, there are complications that may prevent the true impact of the Legionnaires' outbreak from ever being known, The Detroit News explained, including that some cases of Legionnaire's may have been misdiagnosed as pneumonia.

The study findings may have dire consequences for six local officials facing charges of involuntary manslaughter related to Legionnaires' disease, a legal analyst told The Detroit News. Read more about the studies here.