The Realities of Flint, Michigan – Part 2

By: Cami Swafford

Continued from Part 1:

In April 2014, the water supply for Flint, Michigan was switched from Lake Huron to the Flint River once more. The plan was to use the river only for a short time while construction was underway to create a pipeline directly connecting Flint to Lake Huron. A problem was immediately revealed that will sadly affect the people of Flint for years to come.

In August of 2014, fecal coliform bacterium was detected in the water and the government issued a water boil advisory, meaning that citizens should boil their water before consumption.  The government then increased the amount of chlorine in the water and lifted the advisory a week later. As fate would have it, total coliform bacteria was again found in the city’s water–a bacteria that signals the potential presence of disease-causing organisms. Once again, a four-day boil advisory was placed and chlorine levels were heightened.

From that point on, any illusions that the water in Flint was clean disappeared among the city’s population. To make matters worse, government officials deemed the city’s financials as more important than the health of its inhabitants. In January 2015, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department offered to reconnect Flint back to Lake Huron with a waived reconnection fee worth $4 million. This offer was turned down by government officials because the possibility of water rates raising to $12 million a year concerned them. Two months later, after residents began carrying jugs of discolored water to town meetings and the discovery of children becoming ill from the water, these same officials voted 7-1 to reconnect the city with Lake Huron and stop using the river water, yet this decision was overruled in mind boggling fashion by the state-appointed emergency manager, Jerry Ambrose, who feared that costs would skyrocket.

It gets worse; in June of that year, the Environmental Protection Agency revealed a report stating that high levels of lead were present in Flint’s water. From that point on, a lengthy and repetitive pattern ensued of Flint residents coming to the city’s officials with evidence that the water was unsafe and having officials ignore the problem.

In October, Governor Snyder signed a bill under pressure giving Flint $9.35 million to connect the city back to Lake Huron and assist with health services for citizen affected. After that, the city was put into a state of emergency and legitimate investigations into the crisis began. Numerous lawsuits were filed against the state for their neglect and violation of the Clean Drinking Water Act.

Bottled water and filters were distributed to homes throughout Flint and multiple government officials who played a role in prolonging the crisis were fired. Most recently, on January 24, 2017, the EPA announced that lead levels were once again adversely affecting Flint’s residents.

For nearly three years, the water in Flint, Michigan has been contaminated. For 34 months, these people have been forced to expose themselves, and their families to disease and the lifelong effects of lead. The government put a price on these people’s lives and the citizens of Flint paid for it. Officially, the lead levels have been declared safe, but that does not mean the problem has gone away. Not only do the people of Flint need medical assistance to address the exposure to life-threatening bacteria and lead, but completely safe water that is not only free of lead but of any toxic materials.

So what can we do to help Flint? Well, we can start by helping fund organizations and people that bring clean drinking water to Flint and the researchers who continuously work to keep the public informed on the crisis. The more we know on topics such as this one, the more opportunities we can create to better the health of the people and the environment around us. We can also help prevent the recurrence of a water crisis such as this one by treating our earth better and limiting our waste. The level of toxicity in the Flint River could have been reduced, if not prevented, if the level of wastes and pollutants that were dumped in it had been regulated and better managed.

We should also hold the government more accountable for its actions in times of crisis. This country was formed on the basis of being governed by and for the people. With this being the case, the government should hold the health of their citizens above a dollar value and see them for what they are, not just a number, but a human being.

So stay informed, contribute to the cause, and help Flint get the water it needs.