State of Michigan to blame for Flint’s toxic water
People in Michigan aren’t used to worrying about water. We usually consider running out of drinking water a problem unique to impoverished, third world countries. With the one notable exception of Detroit’s water shutoffs earlier this year (an exception already mostly forgotten here in the suburbs), the idea of not having access to clean, drinkable, not fatally toxic water is pretty much taken for granted—unless you live in Flint.
In the last week of September, the Michigan state government stated there is a problem with Flint’s water, a problem particularly close to the government’s heart.
According to the Detroit Free Press in a Sept. 30 article, Governor Rick Snyder, “[There were] probably things that weren’t fully understood when the switch was made.”
The “switch” being that, sixteen months ago, Flint was kicked off of Detroit’s water system and has been since pulling their water from the heavily-polluted Flint River, and the “things” being corrosive chemicals and lead poisoning.
People in Flint have complained about their water for the past year. Not only is it discolored, bad tasting bad smelling, it causes rashes and possibly hair loss. The City of Flint is actually charging more for the river water than the price the Detroit water had been. Bottled water became very popular in Flint over the past year, but those who can’t afford it are left with the garbage from out of the tap.
Despite the complaints, the city’s government, which for years has been under state oversight, insisted the water was safe to drink. People complained directly to the state and got the same answer from Snyder’s administration.
Since then, the water has been tested by independent researchers, who discovered that not only does the water look like poison, smell like poison and taste like poison, it has dangerously high levels of lead from the pipes. Another test found dangerously high levels of lead in children’s’ blood; in some neighborhoods, levels that were double what they had been before the switch to river water.
To save money, the state-run government of Flint decided not to treat the water with a chemical that would stop it from corroding the plumbing. For sixteen months, the river water had been ripping microscopic pieces of lead off of the inside of the pipes. There were government departments who were supposed to make sure that it didn’t happen because lead is extremely poisonous, and especially dangerous to children. The effects include everything from vomiting and weight loss to kidney failure, brain damage and permanent intellectual and emotional disorders. It’s unacceptable that there are people in Flint who have been drinking that every day for a year.
The state government wasn’t worried, at least not in public.
Spokesman for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Brad Wurfel, said to Michigan radio in July, “Anyone who is concerned about lead in the drinking water in Flint can relax.”
Snyder’s government listened to Flint’s fears, gave a thoughtful nod or two, then sent the worried citizens back with a pat on the head. For 16 months, no action was taken.
It took until the end of September for the state government to admit that there were potentially dangerous amounts of lead in Flint’s drinking water. That’s after months of ignoring the problem and the fact that an entire generation of Flint’s children is getting brain damage from every glass of contaminated water they drink, the state is now working on plans, steps and strategies, but for many it may already be too late. Lead can’t be cured.
The state gambled on Flint. Maybe using the river water would have side effects. Maybe not treating the water properly would have worse, but it saved money, so Snyder’s administration went with it. Now, Flint is paying the price. If anything is to change, the officials responsible must be held accountable. If Snyder and his cronies want to gamble, they can do it in a casino and with poker chips—not in a water treatment plant and with people’s lives.