Flint Residents Still Looking for Answers in Citys Water CrisisJan 12, 2016
Flint, Michigan is still struggling with the drinking water crisis that began when the city switched its water source in an effort to save money. They want safe drinking water and official accountability for the public health crisis.
In 2014, shortly after the city switched from Lake Huron water to Flint River water, residents began to complain that their tap water looked dirty, tasted bad, and was causing rashes, the New York Times reports. But despite the many complaints, no corrective action was taken until fall 2015, when testing revealed that Flint children had elevated levels of lead in their blood.
The water supply switch was intended to alleviate some of the financial pressures on the struggling city. Many of the manufacturing jobs that had long sustained the city have moved overseas. The city's population is now less than 100,000, and more than 40 percent of residents live below the poverty level, according to the Times. The problems are exacerbated by an aging and crumbling infrastructure. When the highly corrosive Flint River water was introduced into the city's system, it corroded the city's iron water mains, turning the water brown and exposing residents to lead. CNN reports that the water was not being treated with an anti-corrosive agent, as required by federal law.
State health officials have identified 43 people with elevated lead levels in their blood. Lead is toxic, and can cause a variety of developmental problems in children. Lead exposure can affect nearly every system in the body and even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect a child's IQ, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no safe level of lead in a child's blood. The effects of lead exposure cannot be corrected. Lead exposure often occurs with no obvious symptoms, and therefore it frequently goes unrecognized.
Even as water complaints mounted and residents began buying bottled water for drinking and cooking, city and state leaders continue to dismiss their complaints with assurances that the water was safe and it was being tested regularly. But the emergence of the blood lead level data prompted officials to advise Flint residents not to drink unfiltered tap water. That recommendation remains in effect, the Times reports.
In October, Gov. Rick Snyder helped arrange for Flint to switch back to the Lake Huron water supply. Flint Mayor Karen Weaver was grateful for this step but she said the change did not undo the corrosion damage that caused pipes to leach lead into the drinking water.
The governor has apologized to Flint and this week declared a state of emergency in the city. The state is distributing free water filters and is undertaking more water testing but these actions have not eased residents' concern and anger. Residents are calling for the state to assume the cost of replacing the city's old pipes-Mayor Weaver says this could cost up to $1.5 billion. Residents also want a fund set up to cover the health and developmental impact on children.
The governor's task force on the water crisis sharply criticized the Department of Environmental Quality's response to health concerns. The response, the task force wrote, "was often one of aggressive dismissal, belittlement and attempts to discredit these efforts and the individuals involved," according to the Times. The director of the Department of Environmental Quality has resigned.