Harris Billings, Staff Writer
February 5, 2016
Murky, brown, rancid, high in lead and — by some reports — carrying Legionnaires disease. These are the conditions of tap water in Flint, Michigan.
On April 25, 2014, the City of Flint switched its water supply from Detroit’s water system to the Flint River as a more cost-efficient alternative.
Shortly following this change, complaints about water quality began. Residents alerted city officials about the color, smell and taste of the water, which also caused many to feel ill and even develop rashes.
On Feb. 18, 2015, the water in the home of Flint resident LeeAnne Walters was found to contain 104 parts per billion lead, while secondary testing on Mar. 3 detected 397 parts per billion. The Environmental Protection Agency requires action when levels reach 15 parts per billion.
It was not until Oct. 1, however, that city officials in Flint advised residents to stop drinking tap water. On Dec. 14, the City of Flint declared a state of emergency.
“Officials trusted to look after this basic necessity of life — water — clearly violated that trust, at the local, state and federal levels,” said Associate Professor of Political Science Kyle Dell.
Lead, the primary contaminant in Flint residents’ water, is a potent and irreversibly damaging neurotoxin. Lead contamination has been linked to lower intelligence, diminished ability to focus and reduced fine-motor skills. It is especially dangerous for the developing brains of children.
“Lead poisoning is unforgivable,” said CCE junior Avi Dintenfass. “As a result of this political idiocy, people have been hurt and children who would have contributed to the future may never reach their full potential. It’s sad.”
In Flint, 56 percent of the population is black, and many point towards the impact race has had on not only the decisions leading up to the crisis but its handling as well.
“The issue in Flint is an example of an act of environmental racism and environmental classism,” said Jada Drew, part-time lecturer of justice and policy studies. “People who are of various racial and ethnic groups who are also poor are being disproportionately affected by the faulty leadership.”
“We would be wrong to ignore the element of race in this story,” said Dell. “While every one of the people exposed to contaminated water was let down by those they trusted, knowing that people of color represent nearly 60 percent of Flint’s population must not be forgotten as we search for lessons and seek justice for all.”
In the wake of this crisis, many have rallied to provide relief for the residents of the city. Even celebrities such as Jimmy Fallon, Madonna, Seth Meyers, Aretha Franklin, Pearl Jam and Cher have made large donations ranging from bottled water, money, food and even shelter.
“There is more work to be done. Once we have accurate numbers from the Flint Water Department, we will revisit what is right for our citizens,” said Flint Mayor Dr. Karen Weaver during a press conference on Jan. 27.
On Jan. 29, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed House Bill 5220, which allocates a $28 million dollar budget to aid Flint residents by providing free bottled water, faucet filters and water testing kits. It will also work to repair existing infrastructure and treat children affected by the crisis.
“Ensuring a safe environment for our communities is something everyone values, and it is frequently forgotten until tragedies like this remind us of our responsibilities as good stewards,” said Dell.
“As someone who was born near Flint and grew up in Michigan, my heart breaks for families whose lives will never be the same.”