Flint water crisis

From the November-December 2015 issue of News & Letters

Flint, Mich.—When the article, “Pricey Water in Flint” was published in the Sept.-Oct. News & Letters, tests revealing doubled and tripled lead levels in our tap water had not come out. Now Michigan’s Governor Snyder, the mayor of Flint, and health and environmental experts are pointing enough fingers to block out the sun, jumping to distribute bottled water and free filters to residents and scrambling to reconnect Flint’s water supply to Detroit’s, at a cost of $12 million. It will take at least three weeks to flush Flint River water out of the system.

The governor, mayor and emergency manager, as a way of saving money, had signed off on a plan to use water from the Flint River while a new pipeline to Lake Huron is completed. The state legislature, closing the barn door after the horse has been stolen and poisoned with lead, voted not only the $6 million requested by the Governor but an additional $3.5 million for lead testing and remediation. The City of Flint will have to pay $2 million of the $12 million.

Residents and activists had been protesting since April 2014 when Flint tap water began to look like ginger ale but with bad smells and taste. All parties assured them that the issues were purely cosmetic, although they did admit to using a large amount of chlorine to combat coliform bacteria. The City of Flint, unlike Detroit, did not add anti-corrosive chemicals to the Flint water system. In early September a research team from Virginia Tech reported that “Flint has a very serious lead in water problem.” The corroded iron pipes used lead solder that leached into the water supply. The corrosion even destroyed chlorine and allowed bacteria to grow. 

Pediatrician Dr. Mona Hanna Attisa, who studied lead levels among Flint children, released a report in September comparing lead levels from Flint children this year, compared to earlier results when water from Lake Huron was used. The percentage of kids with above-average lead levels had nearly doubled and in some areas, tripled.

When her report was released, the state admitted its own data confirmed her findings! State officials were well aware of the problem because it had collected 100 samples of Flint water in the last half of 2014 which showed elevated lead levels. Lead poisoning damage, most severe in infants and children, is irreversible, causing lifelong learning and behavioral issues.

Infrastructure failures are not limited to Flint, but include cities all over the country and pipelines like the Enbridge Company’s oil pipelines under the Great Lakes, which has the potential to disastrously contaminate the world’s largest supply of fresh water.

—Dan B. and Susan V.G.

 

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