By Kaye Foley
For almost two years, there has been a water crisis in Flint, Mich. The problem has been gaining more and more attention over the past few months, and on Jan. 16, President Obama declared a state of emergency for the city.
Many people in this Rust Belt city have been consuming tap water contaminated with lead, which is a powerful neurotoxin. Lead poisoning can produce lifelong health effects, and developing children who are exposed to lead even at low levels are at risk of brain damage, behavioral problems and learning disabilities.
The issue stems from a money-saving measure for the impoverished city, where 41 percent of the 100,000 residents live at or below the poverty line. A state-appointed emergency manager was put in place in 2011 to help save money, and one solution was to find a cheaper water source. Flint had been purchasing Lake Huron water through Detroit. Plans were made to join a new regional water system that would supply tap water from Lake Huron at a better price, however, that project wouldn’t be completed until 2016. So, in April 2014, the city was switched to the local Flint River as a temporary water source until the regional water system was finished.
There were complaints right away: The water smelled, tasted and looked funny. Soon, some Flint residents developed rashes, hair loss and other health ailments. Officials consistently assured residents that the water was safe to drink.
Evidence of a problem kept building, including the discovery of contaminants like E. Coli, a leaked Environmental Protection Agency memo, independent studies that found high levels of lead in the water and research by a pediatrician showing that the percentage of the city’s children with elevated lead levels had doubled since water sources were switched.
Local and state officials acknowledged the crisis in October 2015, and Flint returned to using water from Detroit. The Michigan National Guard arrived to help distribute bottled water, filters and testing kits, but the damage had already been done to the people and the pipes.
The Flint River water is extremely corrosive, and the older water service lines in Flint contain lead. As a result, the caustic water leached lead off of the pipes and into Flint households. According to federal regulations, the water should have been properly treated with an anticorrosion agent, but it wasn’t.
At his State of the State address on Tuesday, Snyder said, “To you, the people of Flint, I say tonight as I have before, I am sorry and I will fix it.” He recently released emails related to the water issue.
But many Flint residents want those in the wrong held accountable. There are multiple class-action lawsuits and investigations in place to figure out how this problem was neglected for so long.
So, as the city tries to resolve the situation, when it comes to the Flint water crisis, at least after watching this video you can say, “Now I get it.”