In August of 2014, a city of about 98,000 fell into crisis regarding the most basic tasks; drinking, cooking, and bathing became a challenge. The city of Flint, Michigan was robbed of clean water due to a myriad of issues that all built up to a genuine crisis, causing sickness among its citizens. The short story is that a city’s water source was switched to another for a short period. The water from that source was not treated with anti-corrosive, which allowed lead to dissolve in the water. The Water Crisis within Flint was caused by awful luck, killer ignorance, and inefficient government, and now that city has to pay the price for water they couldn’t drink. Overall, there has been much larger repercussions than imagined, and a valuable lesson learned in the art of hindsight.

How It All Started

For the sake of clarifying the incorrect turns that were taken throughout the crisis, an outline of the events that occur will follow. From April 2014 to when it was declared to be over in this past April of 2018, there was an ongoing battle between the people and the pipes. This crisis started with a simple change. The Flint City council switched its water supply from the Huron Water Supply to that of the Flint River while waiting for a new pipeline to be built. An understandable choice to be made. However, when the red flags were raised, they were shoved back into the dirt. After the switch, the residents of Flint’s were warned of byproducts that increase cancer risk, and the elderly and children were asked to consult doctors before drinking. Shortly after this came to light, the Detroit water system offered for Flint to switch back to Lake Huron with no reconnection fee, but they rejected due to fear of future rising cost. In late January of 2015, the water became discolored. Children were getting rashes and otherwise sick. The following months lead to the brunt of governmental agencies and lawsuits. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) claimed there was no health-emergency. However, the EPA brought to light that a Flint resident’s home had lead levels seven times the federal level. Flint Council urged to reconnect to Detroit, but the council manager overruled. A lawsuit was filed, EPA continued to issue memos, and ACLU posted a video showing the lead in water. Overall, it was a mild sense of pandemonium.

In response, Flint’s Mayor Dayne Walling drank tap water on TV, and MDEQ claimed after testing the problem was not widespread. At that point it had been full year since the crisis begun, MDEQ asked to maximize corrosion controls to keep lead out of the water. The following was full of scrambling to try to avoid a growing problem that was covered up. Class Action Lawsuits were filed. Schools were enraged. Water filters were distributed to families in attempt to lessen further illness. Flint switched back to Detroit’s water supply. The National Guard distributed water bottles. The rage pointed towards government officials and Michigan’s Governor Snyder. Finally, in July of 2016, six state officials were charged with covering up and ignoring signs of lead poisoning. The MDEQ shows months of tests where Flint’s water was at standard level. The EPA granted Flint $100 million to upgrade water infrastructure. In June, 2017 six state officials were charged with involuntary manslaughter due to the outbreak of Legionnaires disease that killed at least a dozen Flint residents. In April of 2018, four years after it began, the water crisis is finally ended.

The Major Effects

Now, all Flint residents have to suffer the long-term effects of lead poisoning. It is a silent epidemic. It affects infants and children even more so than adults. There is no cure. Symptoms in children include developmental delay, loss of appetite, weight loss, sluggishness, abdominal pain, vomiting, constipation, hearing loss, seizures, and even more. Adults with lead poisoning will experience high blood pressure, joint and muscle pain, difficulties with memory or concentration, mood disorders, reduced sperm count and abnormal sperm, and even miscarriage, stillbirth or premature birth in pregnant women. The only real treatment is getting away from the source. These residents could not. These residents had no choice.

Tragedy Needs Reflection

Where did we all go so wrong? Hindsight is 20/20, so let us now look at the highlight reel of bad decisions. The government’s goal was not to fix the problem, but to put a band aid over the injury. The city mayor drank a cup of tap water on TV to calm the storm while the children were getting lead poisoning. Scientists from the University of Michigan confirmed that if the water had been treated with anti-corrosives the crisis could have been prevented all together. There is no excuse. I know the government thinks with their wallet, but the EPA forgave Flint’s debt. They believed focusing on infrastructure was more important than an owed debt. It is our moral duty to think with our future ambition, not to the next buck to be made.

In addition to the change of a moral standard, there needs to be a way the citizens can hold the government accountable. Let the people see their tests. That allows them to assure their own safety. Also, turn to the people for solutions. Utilize public innovation to help people help themselves. If you want to know how someone would like you to fix their problems, ask them. Keep public officials under a watchful eye. If they are letting infrastructure and public safety fail, let them know. If they do something beneficial to the community, let them know. There has to be trust in a system for it to be utilized completely. I believe this idea would be best benefitted by legal actions. There should be protections that grant individuals the right to have their water checked and the results be public. Through a community forum or borough/municipality media. Build that trust from the bottom up and grant people the right to assure the safety for their own future.

Who is to Blame?

Now, everyone is looking for where to point fingers. Rightfully so. Thousands of people were robbed of a basic human right to the point where the citizens were brought into physical danger. The facts point to Gov. Rick Snyder, the state’s highest elected official. I do not think anyone woke up and decided to poison the people of flint. It’s a fool’s errand to run around cutting taxes with no concern for consequences. In addition, he was in charge of two agencies, the Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Health and Human Services, that were warned by the EPA of the dangers that could arise. No one listened. No one with the power to stop this barreling train from derailing. What good is an inefficient government with no compassion for its residents? It is shown now that the water levels are safe; however, the unnecessary battle for clean water to be accessible is un-American.

I have never gone a day without access to clean water. Imagine for just a moment growing up, raising your children, or even grandchildren and telling them the government controls our clean water now. I personally feel that if this crisis had happened in an upper-class neighborhood the outcome would’ve been different. Fifty-seven percent of people in Flint are black. I believe system racism, that I myself benefit from, were at play here. The effects now are undoable. I hope that this crisis does not get swept under the rug. The people of Flint and the people who are listening are still outraged by the current state of our state and nation’s government. The killer combination of ignoring the issue, badly run governments, and a streak of bad luck brought Flint to its knees and its residents to submission. I hope Flint serves as a warning and a lesson. If a government does not want to help its people, people have to help themselves. Again, to reiterate, water is a basic human right.

Image Attribute: Pixabay

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and/or student and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of United 4 Social Change Inc., its board members, or officers.
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