In Flint, Mich., residents have been plagued with an ongoing water crisis for almost two years. In March 2013, city officials including Michigan Emergency Manager Ed Kurtz and then-Mayor Dayne Walling approved the motion to provide water for Flint citizens through the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA). This marked a shift from their dependence on Detroit’s city water to an independent partnership with the KWA municipal corporation. In 2010, The KWA planned to source water from Lake Huron, but had yet to construct a pipeline at the time of the agreement. The city of Flint sought a cheaper alternative to Detroit’s water to utilize during the construction of the KWA system pipeline.
During April 2014, Flint transitioned to sourcing water from the Flint River and planned to do so until the completion of the KWA system. The change in water sources would save the city over $5 million in a two year period. The financially struggling city viewed this as an opportunity to cut costs despite the evident risks. As such, the Flint River (which had been avoided as a water source for decades due to its history of industrial pollution) began to provide over 16 million gallons of water a day to the 100,000 citizens of Flint. What followed was a tumult of health problems for local citizens and subsequent cover-ups by city and state officials.
The corrosive river water leached lead from water service pipes as it traveled into Flint households, causing high levels of lead to pollute their water. Citizens began to complain of smelly and off-colored tap water and questioned its safety. Despite protests and calls for water quality testing, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality continued to assert that the water was safe for consumption. The debacle went on until October 2015 when the city of Flint finally acknowledged the crisis and returned to buying water from Detroit.
In a resoundingly immoral choice of profit over safety, the local and state governments of the Flint area put 100,000 lives on the line. This asinine mishandling of the water crisis is truly disgusting and an insult to the humanity of Flint citizens.
State representatives lied for over 18 months, insisting that “the water being put out meets all of our drinking water standards and Flint water is safe to drink.” The water contamination caused hair loss, rashes and liver and kidney problems for many Flint citizens. More alarmingly, it caused up to 12 percent of the populace to develop severely high levels of lead in their blood. The consequences of this extreme lead poisoning are genuinely scary; for the children of Flint, this exposure could lead to behavioral and developmental issues. For all other age groups, cardiovascular, reproductive, and nervous system problems are possible.
These issues weigh a heavy burden on an already struggling city, where about 40 percent of people live under the poverty line. In an area where citizens deal with prevalent socioeconomic issues, this injustice left many feeling subhuman. Flint resident Rhonda Kelso spoke out about the situation, stating: “The city of Flint residents — they are not people that are disposable… we’re not a permanent underclass.” For the duration of the crisis, citizens have been deceived and treated as if they were undeserving of clean water. Though reparations in the form of federal assistance and goods like filters and bottled water have begun to enter the city, the damage done is ultimately irreversible. The city will continue to experience the consequences of lead poisoning for decades to come.
Of all of the people involved with covering up the dangerous circumstances surrounding Flint’s water, only four government officials have resigned, and none have been prosecuted. Citizens have filed 10 state and federal lawsuits against Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and various other officials, and related investigations are underway. It is imperative that all involved officials are held accountable for their underhanded actions and that more extensive reparations are made for the citizens of Flint.