By Sammy Smith
When you think of places in need of clean water, cities within the United States seldom come to mind. However, thousands of people are currently being affected by the water crisis in Flint, MI.
This all started in 2011. With more than a billion dollars in unfunded pension costs, the city of Flint was in financial crisis. Michigan governor Rick Snyder began appointing “emergency managers” to cities across the state. These managers have the power to cut financial costs without going through the normal political process.
On April 16, 2013, in an effort to save money, the city of Flint decided to stop buying water from the Detroit Sewage and Water Department (DWSD) and switch to a brand-new Lake Huron sourced pipeline being built by the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA). Following the decision, the DWSD notified the city of Flint that their contract would end in April of 2014, and the pipeline would not be finished until 2016.
In late April 2014, Flint began using water from the Flint River temporarily until construction on the pipeline was completed. Almost immediately, the residents of Flint began complaining about the quality of their water. According to lawsuits filed in 2016, the citizens of Flint were given “false assurance” by the government.
MSNBC reported that in Oct. 2014, the Flint General Motors (GM) plant refused to use the river water because it was rusting car parts. The city gave GM another water source, but residents continued to drink water from the Flint River.
By Jan. 2015, Flint announced that there was a high level of trihalomethanes in the water. A violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act, the city maintained that the water was okay to drink for people with normal immune systems. On Feb. 18, 2015, a city consultant assured residents that the water was safe to drink despite its color.
A week later, an Environmental Protection Agency manager told city officials that levels of lead from the pipes were found in the water. That information was not released to the public. It wasn’t until April that city officials told residents that they failed the Safe Drinking Water Act, but only for the trihalomethanes.
The state did not admit there was a real problem with the water until an independent study was done in September by Virginia Tech researchers showing elevated level of lead in the water supply.
Dr. Marc Edwards, an engineering professor who led the group of researchers said,
“It was the injustice of it all and that the very agencies that are paid to protect these residents from lead in water, knew or should’ve known after June at the very very latest of this year, that federal law was not being followed in Flint, and that these children and residents were not being protected.”
An analysis done by state officials in October showed that more children had lead in their blood since the water switch. The next day, Gov. Snyder announced that the state would buy water filters for Flint residents, and the city would soon switch back to its Detroit water source.
Effects on Residents
Thousands of citizens could have been affected by the contaminated water. The ramifications of drinking the river water are dire.
Effects of lead exposure are irreversible and may include anemia, memory loss, and brain fatigue. Many fear for the effects it can have on the children of Flint. Lead exposure in children can lead to a drop in IQ points, difficulty paying attention and using motor skills, and lower academic achievement.
Studies have also shown that lead exposure can even lead to violent behavior and high crime rates.
CNN reported that cases of Legionnaires’ diseases have spiked since Flint switched its water source. Although the spike in cases cannot be directly related to the switch, the report states,
“From June 2014 to November 2015, at least 87 county residents developed Legionnaires’ disease, compared to between six and 13 cases in the four preceding years.”
Ten people have died as a result of Legionnaires’ disease.
To add insult to injury, Flint residents are still receiving water bills that they are required to pay. According to ThinkProgress, some residents are reporting shutoff notices because of unpaid bills.
On Jan. 5, 2016, Gov. Snyder declared a state of emergency. Coincidentally, the U.S. Department of Justice opened an investigation the very same day.
Snyder, former Flint emergency managers, and several other government officials are under intense scrutiny. Allegations of racism have reigned down from Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, as well as Civil Rights activist Jesse Jackson and movie director Michael Moore.
Flint, a city that is nearly 60 percent black, has responded with several lawsuits. One federal suit, filed by a group of pastors, the ACLU, and National Resources Defense Council, alleges that the city and state failed to comply with the Safe Drinking and Water Act.
A few Flint families filed federal lawsuits against Gov. Snyder, former mayor Dayne Wailing, and former Emergency Manager Darnell Early for negligence.
A class-action lawsuit was filed seeking monetary damages for falling property values in Flint. TIME also reported another class-action suit filed “asking that residents not be required to pay any past or future water bills.” This suit would also ensure that the water would not be shut off for residents who have not paid their bills.
Residents have called for Gov. Snyder’s resignation and arrest for criminal negligence. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette assigned former FBI chief Todd Floyd to investigate the case.
On Jan. 16, 2016, President Barack Obama signed an emergency declaration and ordered $80 million be sent to Flint.
Several celebrities, ranging from rappers Big Sean and Meek Mill to Cher and Jimmy Fallon, have made donations to the city of Flint. Millions of bottles of water have been given to Flint residents. Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores even pledged $10 million to help resolve the crisis.
In a post on his website, Flint native and film director Michael Moore called on people to stop donating bottles of water to Flint, pointing to the sheer amount of water that it would take per day. Instead, he called on people to support his five step plan.
Demand the removal and arrest of Rick Snyder
Make the State of Michigan pay for the disaster it created
The Federal Government be placed in charge
Evacuate any and all Flint residents who wish to leave
For those who want to stay, FEMA must create temporary water systems in each home