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, causing serious health problems for the mostly working-class residents of Flint.
Warning Signs – Ignored.
Almost immediately after the switch to the Flint River as a water source, warning signs appeared that something was going very wrong. People living and working in Flint saw the water being discolored, foul-smelling, and with a bad taste, and made complaints, which were largely ignored, with the poisoned water flowing into homes for 18 months. Residents began developing skin rashes, losing hair, and experiencing itchy skin. Complaints were raised to city officials about the safety of the water, which were largely discounted or ignored. In response to the flood of complaints, Flint mayor Dayne Walling and state-appointed emergency manager Darnell Earley doubled down on their decision, telling residents the water was safe to drink.
A Tragic Decision for the Children of Flint – The “Boil Water” Advisory.
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 finding that it corroded its automotive parts. Boiling the water made matters far worse, as it concentrated the amount of lead in the water being used by families to drink, cook, and mix baby formula, with tragic consequences for innocent children.
Public Denials Despite Mounting Evidence
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.
A Public Health Disaster Unfolds
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 anti-corrosion 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.
A Historic Case of Injustice – The Flint Water Crisis
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.