HealthPseudoscienceScience

Meet the Alternative Medicine Doctor Who Uses Flint as a Marketing Ploy

Here’s the thing about parenting a Minecraft addict. When the addiction gets bad (like what’s wrong with your eyes bad), you’ll do just about anything to get them off the couch and away from their Minecraft world. Even if that means attending an expo for alternative health and medicine.

Sometimes I just need to remind him what sunlight looks like. And make sure he hasn’t completely lost touch with reality. Just the other day, he overheard a discussion about remodeling and offered to build us a new house. “Honey, remember how we don’t live in Minecraft?”

That Sunday, two of my fellow DC skeptics were planning on checking out HealthFest 2016, an integrative health expo held in a church off of 14th Street, so I decided to join them and bring along my son.

Hmmm…How exactly should I approach bringing my child to an alternative health expo? Do I tell him what to expect? What to think? Avoid drinking anything “essential”?  I decide to say nothing and just kind of see how it goes. Look out, Lenore Skenazy! I’m practically free range-ing it now.

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As soon as we walked into the church where the expo was held, I nearly doubled over from the smell. Something was fermenting, and it was either a dead body or kombucha. Sure enough, a Virginia kombucha company was batching it up in a room off to the left.

I took a picture of the sign. “Uh oh, it’s GMO-free!” my son quipped. Okay, so he knows I’m pro-GMO. I mean, my I ♥ GMO t-shirt is kind of a dead giveaway.

At that moment, I got a text from Stephan. “We are all lead-poisoned.” He was listening to Dr. Charles Gant begin his lecture: “Flint’s Lead Poisoned Residents Can Heal.” At the time, I wasn’t familiar with Gant, but he’s a medical doctor with a long troubled history of offering various nonconventional treatments. His medical license was suspended by the state of New York in 2003 for, amongst other things, gross negligence and gross incompetence. Since then, he’s been practicing in Washington, DC, first as a registered naturopath and, since 2009, as a licensed physician.

My son and I headed upstairs and saw several closed doors. One of them featured a handwritten sign: “Flint can heal.” Oh god, I thought. If I go through this door, will I be able to get out again? I kind of have a thing about being trapped in places with unstable people. Yes, I realize that’s probably everybody’s thing. “What’s the big deal,” my son asked, exasperated. “Okay, okay,” I said and we headed in.

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I opened the door and it was just as I feared — a small room set up classroom style with no subtle means of escape. I believe I had a look of panic on my face but Stephan just looked at me like, Oh no, this is great stuff. You’ll want to hear this. Okay, fine, I thought. We took a seat and listened to Gant talk about water filters and epsom salt baths.

Gant’s talk was kind of a sciencey salad — a little bit of this, a little bit of that. Just enough to make it seem plausible. My son turned to me and asked, “Is this true?” “Later,” I whispered.

I wanted to know whether Gant was actually treating patients in Flint or if, like so many other environmental health advocates these days, he was simply using “Flint” to gin up fear and sell his services.

So I asked — Do you work in Flint? Gant just shrugged and said no. Because he doesn’t distinguish between true lead-poisoning and the trace amounts of lead normally found in human bodies, Gant has no qualms marketing his services to everyone, including privileged hipsters whose drinking water is probably just fine. Here in DC, it’s the residents who can’t afford to replace older lead pipes who are really at risk for lead poisoning.

Getting safe, privileged Americans to freak out and spend money seems to be the sine qua non of environmental health advocacy these days. The Environmental Working Group — the group whose stated mission is to protect human health — most recently used the Flint water crisis to remind people to buy EWG-recommended water filters. 

via flickr user 8ShroomFairy8

via flickr user 8ShroomFairy8

The constant message seems to be spend money to save your family from risks that are either unlikely or don’t exist at all (hello, fluoride). Meanwhile, do nothing to help the poorest Americans (in Flint and elsewhere) who are actually at risk.

After Gant concluded his talk, we left the room and my son pressed me to answer whether of any of that was true. I told him he should read more about lead poisoning and make up his own mind about Charles Gant, but he’s in middle school and he just said, Noooo that’s boring. Just tell me! 

After we got downstairs, I was a little worn out. We circled the rest of the expo — naturopaths, crystals, reiki practitioners, natural birth midwives, essential oils and a holistic dentist. My fellow skeptics went on to have some interesting conversations. If you haven’t already, check out Stephan Neidenbach’s post at We Love GMOs and Vaccines to get the rest of the story.

My son picked up a crystal, and read the label next to it — “Helps with confidence. How is that even possible?!” Well, I said, I guess that depends on how you look at it. We had an interesting conversation about evidence, belief, religion, perception, the placebo effect and the business of crystals. He has yet to do any further reading about lead poisoning but I think I planted a few seeds. Besides, I did get him away from Minecraft, if only for a few hours.

featured via flickr user Robert Bell

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Jenny Splitter

Jenny Splitter

Jenny Splitter is a writer, storyteller and over-scheduled mom of two living in Washington, DC. She spends her glamorous days trying to write whatever she can, counting 1-2-3 in a slow yet threatening manner to her children, playing with gluten and working to eradicate dog hair from the planet (or at least her home). Find her on Twitter , Google+ and Facebook

3 Comments

  1. March 17, 2016 at 5:59 pm —

    I suppose the good news is, the only thing more disgusting than poo coffee is the water in Flint? (Well, that and the water on Four Corners reservation, where they’ve had arsenic problems for over a century.)

    It sucks because, try to start a Facebook group to organize activists over water rights. You will be inundated with alties who ultimately take over your group.

    • March 17, 2016 at 7:09 pm —

      I noticed several people on Twitter with a similar agenda. Drives me nuts.

      • March 18, 2016 at 1:54 pm —

        Indigenous Facebook groups get a bunch of weirdies. The ones I have the least patience for are the conspiracy theorists, mostly because the government actually does have a history of conspiring against Indians, so it’s sort of a “you’re not like me, bruv” type thing.

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