Flint Is An Example Of Why People Don’t Trust Government
The Flint Water crisis is a failure of government on the city, state and local levels as well as an example of why stronger federal oversight on environmental issues is required. It disgustingly shows how income inequality means that, even in 2016, basic necessities like water are reserved for those who can afford to fight for them.
Flint Water Crisis
In March 2013, the Flint City Council voted 7-1 to stop buying Detroit water and join a pipeline project that would bring water from Lake Huron which the state agreed with as it was anticipated to save the city 19 million dollars over 8 years. The agreement was signed April 16, 2013.
Detroit informed Flint that it would immediately stop selling water to the city, but the pipeline was not expected to be finished for three years. Flint invested four million dollars over the next 8 months in its water treatment plant.
In March 2014, the city decided the Flint River would be the source of drinking water. The plan called for water from the Flint River to be pumped to the new water plant which would require millions of dollars in upgrades as it was used to dealing with already treated water from Detroit. The move was expected to save the city 5 million dollars in less than 2 years. After some initial delays, the water was switched from the Detroit water source to the Flint River source.
In the weeks following the switch, citizens immediately began complaining about poor tasting and foul smelling water. The city added lime to combat hardness, but continued to tell residents the water was safe as residents began to buy bottled water in mass quantities.
Nearly four months after the switch, fecal coliform bacteria was found and the city’s residents were advised to boil their water. Additional bacteria is found in the water. The city issued a statement saying coliforms are a sign of a problem with the treatment or distribution system. The city added chlorine and attempted to flush the system by opening hydrants.
Amidst continued complaints about the water, GM stopped using the water in its engine plant for fear of corrosion on October 14, 2014. They agreed to buy water from Flint Township which used Lake Huron Water.
January 2nd, 2015, the city notifies residents it is in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act for TTHM is found in the water which over many years could cause, liver, kidney or central nervous problems as well as increases the risk of cancer. Samples taken in 3rd quarter 2014 were so high that even if there was no trace of the bacteria in the 4th quarter, Flint would still be over the quarterly average allowed by law.
Less than a week later, some in City Council wanted to stop using the Flint River water source. Detroit was ready to sell water from Lake Huron again without the four million dollar reconnection fee, but Flint declined. The city said instead that it would hire a water consultant.
On January 20, 2015, environmental activist Erin Brockovich weighed in:
Now is not the time for the blame game…Detroit has failed and Flint has jumped ship. So much for local control…everyone has failed from the top down: USEPA, Michigan Department of of Environmental Quality, the state of Michigan and the local officials.
After asking for help, the mayor of Flint received reassurance from the state they were looking into it. The mayor stated that the challenges of treating river water were underestimated by those who made the decision.
Continuing protests and offers of help from Detroit were rebuffed by the city as late as January 29th. On February 3rd, the Governor gave Flint two million dollars to find leaks and replace a wastewater incinerator which officials said would free up money to help with the water crisis.
Water expert Bob Bowcock say the city should switch back to Detroit water on February 17. City hired consultants Veolia North America said that while having problems with sediment and discoloration, the water was safe to drink and met all laws.
On March 18, those same water consultants called for three million dollars in changes at the Flint Water Plant. The very next day, the city restructured bonds to delay 2.2 million dollars in payments and spend it on water safety and quality. A new 1.6 million dollar carbon system was to be installed in July. Soon after, the city council agreed to vote to go back to Detroit water even though Flint was still claiming that Detroit’s water was no safer than theirs.
In June, a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit forcing Flint to connect back to Detroit is denied, and eventually dismissed; however, an emergency injunction was issued in a separate lawsuit where the city was to roll back water and sewer rates by 35 percent, end a ready to service fee, repay its water and sewer fund over 15 million dollars, and stop disconnections and liens for past due bills.
On September 2nd, lead is reported to be leaking into the water even though the city announced it’s in compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act. The state and city still claim the water meets state and federal safety standards, but it will introduce a lead reintroduction plan by 2016.
September 19th, it was found that 10 percent of Flint homes had increased lead levels since the switch to the Flint River water source. On September 24th, Flint children and infants were found to have increased lead levels in their blood since the switch to the Flint River. The city issued lead in water warnings.
On October 1st, a public health emergency is declared ordering citizens not to drink the water until it had been checked for lead or approved filters were implemented. This was done in hopes of urging the governor to declare a state of emergency to handle the water crisis.
The next day, the governor announced one million dollars in new water filters, immediate water testing at Flint schools, lead exposure testing for individuals, and expedited treatment of Flint water to better control pipe corrosion. He was said to be looking at, but did not recommend, switching to Detroit. Five days later, the city’s technical advisory committee recommended switching back to Detroit’s water source.
On October 8th, the governor announced a plan to switch back to the Detroit water system. The plan called for buying nine months of water from Detroit Water and Sewage Department with at least six million from the state, four million from the foundation, and two million from the city. Officials remained concerned that damage to the pipes could allow them to continue leaching lead.
Where We Are Now
The Governor and Mayor of Flint have appealed for federal aid. The application seeks help from all available federal programs. According to the Governor, 90 days of clean drinking water could cost $10.3 million, and home filters, filter cartridges and testing kits could cost $31 million over a year. Over the long term, replacing old lead service lines at Flint homes and other private properties could cost $54 million.
Flint is roughly 60 percent black, and nearly 60 percent of Flint residents get food stamps, and median household income is 50 percent less than the statewide figure. Mistrust in government is at a heightened level according to the Governor. I wonder why?
Everyone in Flint is urged to get a free filter. The National Guard is distributing water, filters and other supplies. Separately, at least 10 people have died from Legionnaires’ disease in Genesee County, due to the Legionella bacteria, although state and local health officials say they can’t make a definitive connection to the water.
A state task force recently faulted Snyder’s Department of Environmental Quality for not requiring Flint to treat the river water for corrosion and for its derisive response to the public’s fears. The head of the department and his spokesman resigned. The State Attorney General said his office was investigating if any laws were broken. He declined to elaborate on the scope of the probe. The U.S. Justice Department is also investigating. Several class action lawsuits have been filed as well.
I think I’m going to take a shower now as I have a renewed appreciation for clean water. This was difficult to research and write, not because of lack of available facts, but just because it made me so angry and sad.