Who Will Be Held Accountable for Poisoning the Water in Flint?

Seattle, Washington (TFC) – Ruthless cost-cutting measures and questionable official decisions surface as the truth trickles out in the Flint Water Crisis. The water which is being utilized in the homes of nearly one hundred thousand people living in Flint, Michigan has been poisoned. The aging plumbing infrastructure of the city is damaged, and public officials made the decision to not to properly treat corrosive water from the Flint River. Dubbed the Flint Water Crisis by mainstream media, this extreme example of government failure is an enormous public health violation against the people of Flint; causing righteous outrage and demands that someone be held accountable. Politicians in Michigan and Washington are shifting the blame and only time will tell what the disastrous long-term outcome is likely to be. For over a year now Flint residents have been exposed to the toxicity of lead in their drinking water due to the aging lead pipes. Exposure for young children and unborn babies can lead to a number of unfavorable long-term health effects. There is NO safe level of exposure to lead.

Image Source: Flickr, Creative Commons, Damien Weidner

Image Source: Flickr, Creative Commons, Damien Weidner

Citizens in Michigan are impoverished and infrastructure is crumbling, due in part to the decline of the automotive industry. Statewide, cities’ finances are in bad shape. According to a CNN timeline, the crisis began back in 2011 when, in an emergency budget move, the state of Michigan took over Flint’s finances. Prior to April 2014, Flint received its water from nearby Detroit, via a pipeline from cold, clean Lake Huron. In a ruthless, poorly considered cost-cutting strategy by an emergency financial manager appointed by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, the Flint River was settled on as an interim water source while officials worked with the Karegnondi Water Authority to develop a direct pipeline to Lake Huron, bypassing the city of Detroit. Although officials began receiving complaints about the odor, color, and taste of the water from residents in the months following the switch to the Flint River water, they denied that there was a problem right from the start.

The Flint River, historically an industrial dumping ground, is reputed to be polluted. Using it as a water source should have been considered with trepidation and only after thorough treatment and testing. The corrosive water was deemed safe for use after treatment with a water-softening agent, an additional cost. It seems that someone in a position of power decided to forgo the extra cost and this important step to make the water potable. As a result, many of the aging water service lines in older Flint homes have been stripped and corroded, allowing dangerous levels of lead to seep into tap water. Outrageously, this corrosive water was served to the homes of residents for about eighteen months, although numerous reports now indicate that both state and federal officials were aware of the contamination. 2015 water quality testing conducted by the Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) in February, and independently in August by Virginia Tech University researchers, all showed elevated levels of lead in the water. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was aware of the corrosive water as far back as last April.

Although DEQ testing did find elevated levels of lead in some cases, they report much lower levels than those found by Virginia Tech researchers, who are calling into question the government’s methods. Virginia Tech researcher Marc Edwards argues that the city’s method is inconsistent with consumer use. The procedure used by DEQ involves pre-flushing service lines in the home, which Edwards says can dilute results, giving officials and consumers false security. Edwards’ own method involves drawing samples that have sat in supply lines; his investigation “discovered that the lead contamination ranged from 200 ppb to the 13,200 ppb.” In an interview with ACLU Michigan last July, Edwards said “This was literally hazardous-waste levels.” At 5,000 ppb of lead, water is considered hazardous waste. Edwards’ outlying sample contains over twice that amount. Unsurprisingly government officials tried to discredit the Virginia Tech University findings; however, much of the evidence indicates that the EPA and the state of Michigan knew that the water in Flint was bad and they did nothing to protect residents, perhaps to the point of deliberately misleading residents about the drinkability of the water. According to MLive.com, a spike in Legionnaire’s disease in 2014 after the switch sickened 78 and killed ten was also likely linked to the contaminated water; documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show that officials were aware of a potential link. Flint continued to be served Flint River water until October 2015, when a sudden switch back to Detroit’s pipeline came too little, too late; pipes in many of the area’s homes were already badly corroded and lead continues seeping into tap water.

The impact of this public health tragedy has only just begun. A report from the Hurley Medical Center shows that many children in Flint have elevated levels of lead in their blood. Thousands of children may have lead poisoning. Children exposed to lead can suffer from developmental delays, learning disabilities, and behavioral disorders. High exposure can even be lethal. Developing fetuses can be injured if pregnant women are exposed to lead. Experts anticipate a high number of long-term social costs arising from the Flint Water Crisis. While politicians continue to shuffle responsibility, the true cost of this political blunder is, sadly, a burden which the citizens of Flint are forced to endure. When someone is murdered, we demand justice. The person who made the decision that resulted in the death of another is punished once proven guilty. The government of the state of Michigan and the EPA conspired to poison the water of a hundred thousand citizens. Who will ensure that the guilty parties be held accountable for their negligent decisions which resulted in the poisoned water of Flint? When the government poisons and murders its own citizens, it is up to the people of this country to demand accountability, water, and justice for Flint, Michigan.