Michigan Governor Rick Snyder announced late last week that the state would no longer be supplying residents of Flint with free bottled water, despite the fact that Flint is still suffering from dangerously high levels of lead in their tap water.
State officials are arguing that the city’s water supply meets federal standards, however that water becomes contaminated when it flows through the thousands of lead pipes that the city has yet to replace. Replacements are not expected to be completed until 2020, and many Flint residents rightly do not trust the tap water for drinking, eating or bathing.
“We did not cause the manmade water disaster, therefore adequate resources should continue being provided until the problem is fixed and all the lead and galvanized pipes have been replaced,” said Flint mayor Karen Weaver. Weaver found out about the state’s decision only moments before it was announced, and said she would speak to the governor about extending the water bottle distribution.
57 percent of Flint residents are black and 42 percent are impoverished. High lead levels are especially dangerous to children, pregnant women, and fetuses. Thus, the lead-tainted water in Flint has disproportionately impacted people of color, people living below the poverty line, women, and children.
The Flint water crisis began in April of 2014, when Flint switched water sources from Detroit to the Flint River, partially as a cost-saving measure. Residents immediately complained that the water from the Flint River looked, tasted, and smelled unclean, and that it caused hair loss, rashes, and other health complications. However, Flint government official continued to insist that the water was safe, ignoring studies that showed high levels of lead in the water and signs of lead poisoning among Flint children, until September 25, 2015. It was then that Governor Snyder first public acknowledged that the water contained high lead levels.
A 2016 study by the American Journal of Public Health found that lead rates in Flint’s children doubled after the city switched water supplies, and the lead tainted water has been linked to 12 cases of Legionnaires disease that resulted in death. Legionaires disease is a form of bacterial pneumonia caused by inhaling water vapor that contains Legionella bacteria.
In June 2017, head of the Michigan state health department Nick Lyon, former Flint water manager Howard Croft, former Flint Emergency manager Darnell Eearly, and Michigan Environmental Quality members Stephen Busch and Liane Shekter-Smith were charged by the Michigan attorney general with involuntary manslaughter for their failure to address water safety in Flint.
In his charging report, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said these officials had failed to properly inform the public of the Legionnaire’s disease outbreak, and of the possibility that other outbreaks could occur. Schuette said that Lyon had, “willfully disregarded the deadly nature” of the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, which resulted in the death of Flint citizens.
This year, over a dozen states sued the Trump administration over their decision to suspend implementation of the 2015 Clean Water Rule, which clarifies which waterways are protected by the Clean Water Act, extending environmental regulations to streams, wetlands, and other small waterways that provide drinking water to a third of Americans, some 117 million people. The states are arguing that the administration’s decision was made without consulting scientific evidence.
Media Resources: New York Times 4/8/18; ABC News 4/9/18; Feminist Newswire 6/16/17; Bloomberg 2/6/18