How does a city with perfectly good drinking water become poisoned by a group of corrupt politicians? This crisis should have never happened.
The Michigan Civil Rights Commission issued a report (February, 2017) : "The Flint Water Crisis: Systemic Racism Through the Lens of Flint." According to the commission’s report, “ institutional, systemic and historical racism “ indirectly contributed to the ill-fated decision to tap the Flint River for drinking water as a cost-saving measure. The commission did not find specific violations of Michigan's civil rights laws, the commission believes "the current state civil rights laws appear inadequate to address" the "root of this crisis."
Let’s take a look back at events leading up to this crisis and what is being done to make sure this never happens again.
What’s Been Going On?
Recently (CNN, June 14, 2017) reported that The Michigan Attorney General’s Office announced that several state officials have been charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection with the Legionnaires’ outbreak that killed twelve people during the Flint Water Crisis.
The EPA, The Environmental Protection Agency (March 17, 2017) announced that $100 million would be devoted to drinking water infrastructure upgrades for Flint Michigan residents. A federal judge (CNN, March 28, 2017) approved a $97 million settlement for Michigan to replace lead or galvanized steel water lines in the City of Flint affecting 18,000 households by 2020.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality reported in January 2017 that the city of Flint’s water tested below the federal limit. A $722 million class action lawsuit was also filed against the EPA on behalf of more than 1,700 residents impacted by the water crisis.
In late October and November of 2016, the ACLU of Michigan filed a class action lawsuit against school districts in Flint for exposing students to tainted water. The state of Michigan and city of Flint are also ordered to deliver bottled water to over 400 homes where residents are exposed to contaminated water.
A year after switching over to the Flint River for the city’s water supply, Flint declares a state of emergency (December, 2015). In early January, 2016 the US Attorney’s Office in Detroit reports that a federal investigation is underway. Weeks later the Michigan National Guard is mobilized to help distribute clean water. Days after that then President Barack Obama authorizes $5 million in aid, authorizing the Federal Management Agency (FEMA) to manage the water crisis.
Also at this time, the EPA issues an emergency administrative order to ensure state regulators are complying with the Safe Drinking Water Act and are being transparent in their response to the crisis. And at this time, a new federal lawsuit is filed in Detroit alleging that the state is in violation of the Safe Water Drinking Act.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) claims in January, 2016 that the EPA has failed to note the state's multimillion-dollar initiatives to address the crisis, including water testing, distribution of filters and medical care.
Virginia Tech conducts a water quality study in Flint, concluding (September, 2015) that Flint water is 19 times more corrosive than Detroit water. Flint’s lead levels were as high as 13,200 ppb. Contaminated water with levels of 5,000 ppb of lead is classified by the EPA as hazardous water.
Virginia Tech recommends the state declare that the water is not safe for drinking or cooking as the river water is corroding old pipes and lead is leaching into the water.
In another independent report, a research team led by the Hurley Medical Center, releases a study revealing the number of children with elevated lead levels in their blood nearly doubled after the city switched its water source. In neighborhoods with the most severe contamination problems, testing showed lead levels tripled.
In February, 2015 the (EPA) notifies the MDEQ it has detected dangerous levels of lead in the water at the home of Flint resident Lee-Anne Walters. A mother of four, she had first contacted the EPA with concerns about dark sediment in her tap water possibly making her children sick. Testing revealed that her water had 104 parts per billion (ppb) of lead, nearly seven times greater than the EPA limit of 15 ppb. A month later a follow up EPA test indicates the lead level in her water is 397 ppb.
Just a year after switching to the Flint River for water, Michigan Governor Snyder signs a spending bill appropriating $9.35 million to help Flint re-connect with Detroit water and provide health services for afflicted Flint residents. In October, 2015 the EPA establishes a Flint Safe Drinking Water Task Force.
How Did This Happen?
In 2011, the state of Michigan took over Flint's finances leading up to a projected $25 million deficit. Flint officials were using Flint's water supply fund to cover shortfalls in its general fund. In order to reduce the water fund shortfall, Flint switched water sources in 2014 to the Flint River while a new pipeline was being constructed to connect Flint with Lake Huron. Flint’s primary source of water had been up to this point Lake Huron since 1967.
Four of Flint’s former emergency officials who reported directly to the governor and two water plant officials were charged with felonies of false pretense and conspiracy. They were accused of misleading the Michigan Department of Treasury into creating million of bonds which were appropriated for the construction of a new pipeline. Their actions directly contributed to Flint’s water supply to be switched to the contaminated water from the Flint River.
The former chief of the Michigan Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance now faces charges of misconduct in office and willful neglect of duty for allegedly misleading the public and concealing evidence of rising lead levels in water.
Two years after Flint had switched over to the Flint River water supply as early as August, 2014 the city announces that fecal coliform bacterium has been detected in the water supply. Reports persists of contaminated water, the city tells residents that the water is safe to drink from the tap.
Flint City Council members vote 7-1 to stop using river water and to reconnect with Detroit. State appointed emergency manager, Jerry Ambrose overruled the vote citing cost overruns and claiming the water from Detroit is no safer than Flint. Local clergy and activists then file a lawsuit against the city claiming the Flint River water is a health risk. The city’s attorney asserts the lawsuit is baseless. The case is dismissed in September, 2015. It is unbelievable that this could happen.
Who Is Making Sure Flint Gets Clean Water?
It’s pretty scary that our public servants don’t have our back, so who does? In Flint, the Community Development Organization was created in response to the water crisis. You can support this non-profit’s efforts to assist and share information with those effected by the Flint River water contamination.
What’s Being Done Now?
The US Attorney's Office in Detroit announces that the FBI, the US Postal Inspection Service, the inspector general of the EPA and the EPA's criminal investigation division are assisting in the probe of the Flint water crisis.
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Many cities report that their tap water has high levels of lead, nitrates, arsenic or other pollutants. Today, as it stand many communities simply have no way of knowing if their tap water is safe or contaminated. As there is no testing or monitoring that takes place.