The Democratic debate in Flint, Mich., covered a range of issues including water systems, lead poisoning, religion and even the Export-Import Bank.

Ahead of the debate, we awarded Two Pinocchios to Hillary Clinton’s claim that Flint was poisoned because the Republican governor “wanted to save a little money.” Not all the facts are available but as far as we know, there was no direct involvement by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder in the decisions regarding Flint’s water supply, especially concerning questions about costs. The key decisions were made by the people he appointed, but that’s not the same thing as directly blaming Snyder.

Below are six of 13 claims we fact-checked during Sunday night’s debate. As always, we don’t issue Pinocchio ratings during live fact-checks, but strive to provide context and underlying facts where we can. Read the full round-up of 13 claims here.

We will commit to a priority to change the water systems, and we will commit within five years to remove lead from everywhere.”

–Hillary Clinton

Five years seems quite unrealistic. The Environmental Protection Agency said in 2013 that it would cost $384 billion through 2030 in order to provide safe drinking water for Americans, including removing lead from pipes. Some $247.5 billion would be needed to replace or refurbish aging or deteriorating lines.

Moreover, some 24 million homes have deteriorated lead paint, and it would like take years to deal with that issue.

I talk to scientists who tell me that fracking is doing terrible things to water systems all over this country.”

–Bernie Sanders

Sanders is apparently not talking to the scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency.

A draft assessment by the EPA released in 2015 said it found no evidence of “widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.” The EPA did find some including contamination of drinking water wells, but said the number of identified cases “was small compared to the number of hydraulically fractured wells.”

“Five hundred thousand children today have lead in their bodies.”


Clinton is citing data available through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The data come from 2014, but the CDC continues to use the estimate for blood lead levels in children today.

According to the CDC, about 500,000 children in the United States aged 1 to 5 years old have blood lead levels above 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood.

CDC considers this amount of lead a level of potential public health concern. At 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter or higher, CDC recommends follow-up and intervention. About 4 million households have children that are being exposed to high levels of lead, the CDC says.

There is no demonstrated safe amount of lead in children’s blood, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“I have talked to scientists all over the world. And what they are telling me — if we don’t get our act together, this planet could be 5 to 10 degrees warmer by the end of this century — cataclysmic problems for this planet.”


There are various projections for global climates by 2100. Sanders largely gets the point correct, but the range is off.

Average global temperatures are expected to rise between 0.5 to 8.6 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. These projects may change based on the emissions scenarios and climate models. There is a likely increase of at least 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, except for the scenario with the most aggressive mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, the EPA says.

For the United States, the average temperature is projected to increase by 3 to 12 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the emissions levels.

“NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement], supported by the Secretary, cost us 800,000 jobs nationwide, tens of thousands of jobs in the Midwest.”


Sanders appears to be citing an estimate from the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning group which has opposed free-trade agreements, which estimated a job loss of nearly 700,000.  (Another group, Public Citizen, pegsthe jobs loss at 1 million.) But these are not universally accepted estimates, with many economists say that the job losses in manufacturing cannot be easily blamed just on NAFTA.

Manufacturing was already under stress before the agreement was reached in 1993, while the U.S. economy has transitioned away from manufacturing toward services. Advocates of the agreement instead point to the export-related jobs that they say have been created through the trade with Mexico and Canada.

No one really knows the job impact of various trade agreements, but both sides will argue vigorously over the figures. Then-President Bill Clinton famously declared that “I believe that NAFTA will create a million jobs in the first 5 years of its impact.”

Two years later, after a financial meltdown in Mexico and collapse of the peso evaporated any job gains from NAFTA, the economist who generated million-job forecasts famously said he would stay away from job forecasting in the future.

“No other industry in America has absolute immunity [like gun manufacturers].”


Actually, gun manufacturers don’t have absolute immunity. Clinton exaggerates with this talking point.

She is referring to the  Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act in 2005, which was passed after a wave of lawsuits filed against gun manufacturers by municipalities and gun-control advocates.  The 2005 law does not guarantee blanket immunity, and it has some exceptions.

Manufacturers or dealers can be sued if they knowingly sold a product that would be used to commit a crime. They can be sued if they were negligent in selling the product to someone they knew was unfit (i.e., a child or someone who was drunk). They can be sued for another technical negligence claim (“negligence per se”) that relates to the violation of a safety statute. The law bars any other type of negligence claims against a gun manufacturer.

Still, Clinton has a point. The law provides a unique federal legal shield that most consumer goods manufacturers do not have.

There are few industries that have federal liability immunity. Vaccine manufacturers have limited protection from lawsuits if their vaccine led to an injury. The federal government enacted this immunity to encourage companies to produce more vaccines without the fear of lawsuits, for their benefit to public health. Another example is federal protection for the airline industry from lawsuits arising from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But unlike the gun law, both cases established a compensation scheme for victims to recover money for damages.

(Courtesy of CNN)

Help us find ads, statements, speeches, quotes and figures that don’t quite pass muster. Send your fact-check suggestions: fill out this form, e-mail us or tweet us at @myhlee@GlennKesslerWP or using #FactCheckThis. Read about our rating scale here, and sign up here for our weekly Fact Checker newsletter. 

Scroll down for this week’s Pinocchio round-up.

— Michelle Ye Hee Lee