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Flint Water Crisis

The Flint Water Crisis is a disaster that began when the city switched its water supply from the Detroit water system to the Flint River. The decision was made by a state-appointed emergency manager as a cost-saving measure in April 2014, despite a 2011 report indicating that treating the water would be expensive and difficult. Since making the switch, the water has had rising levels of lead as well as unsafe levels of fecal bacteria detected in it, causing serious health problems for the mostly working-class residents of Flint.

Almost immediately after the switch, warning signs began appearing that something was wrong. Residents began to notice a change in the water's color, taste and odor. Many complained of rashes, and concerns were raised to officials about the safety of the water. In response to the complaints, Flint mayor Dayne Walling and state-appointed emergency manager Darnell Earley doubled down on their decision and told residents that the water was safe to drink.

Less than four months later, officials issued a "boil-water" advisory after finding coliform bacteria in the tap water. In October 2014, state officials assured residents that steps had been taken to prevent the need for a future boil-water incident, and maintained that the water met environmental standards. However, that same month, a General Motors plant decided to stop using the water after it finding that it corroded its automotive parts.

Despite mounting evidence of the hazardous nature of the water, officials turned down a January 2015 offer by Detroit to reconnect Flint to its water system free of charge. Though government officials internally suspected the quality of the water-emails from early 2015 suspected the uptick in Legionnaire's disease had come from the water-they continued to publicly deny that anything was wrong. It was not until October 2015 that officials decided to take the matter seriously, after tens of thousands of residents had been exposed to dangerous levels of lead in water supply, and children of working class families became permanently brain damaged.

What began as a cost saving measure to save a few million dollars quickly became a public health disaster, with long term economic damage estimated in the billions. Switching to the highly corrosive water in the Flint River caused the metal pipes carrying the water to corrode, leaching copper and lead into the water supply. Necessary safeguards, such as adding anticorrosion agents to the water before pumping it to residents' homes were disregarded in the name of austerity. Inadequate treatment of the water led to bacterial contamination of the water, and instead of responding with more robust treatment, officials raised the chlorine levels in the water, which only made it more corrosive.

Residents' complaints went unheeded. Disenfranchised by the state appointment of an emergency manager, residents found themselves unable to hold public officials accountable and have a say in the governing of their city. It took national media attention to get the state to acknowledge and address the problem, but it is too late to undo the damage to the thousands who have been permanently harmed by the state government's cavalier conduct.

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