Flint, Michigan (TFC)- Its 7 am. Your alarm goes off. You and your husband get the three kids up for school. Everyone showers and sits down to coffee and breakfast then head out the door to begin their day. Sounds like a familiar scenario in most typical American households. One community no longer has the luxury of those typical American mornings. Now let’s take a sneak peek into a morning routine for the average family in Flint Michigan. Mom doesn’t jump out of bed into a steamy hot shower. If she did, it is likely she would break out in rashes. While the masses get faucets, hot water and a loofah she gets a bottle of water with soap and washcloth. She gets out her toothbrush and another bottle of water to brush her teeth. She leaves the bathroom as her husband comes in and repeats a similar routine. The three children, one after the other, have learned the same methods of cleaning themselves and personal hygiene. Downstairs, the coffee pot is filled with bottled water and begins brewing. As breakfast is being cooked on one burner, a pot full of bottled water heats on another. While everyone finishes breakfast and gets the last of their morning belongings ready, the pot of water gets poured into the sink. Mom washes the dishes and one by one uses more bottles of water to rinse each dish then places them in a dish strainer. Kisses and hugs are exchanged and the family walks out the door. This, my friends, is a typical American morning routine for the citizens of Flint Michigan.
When a community has a water issue, a boil alert of some sort comes across the television. The people are immediately alerted there is a “problem”, they are given a time limit as to how long the advisory is to last, and the method on how to deal with the particular alert. These alerts are crucial as the last thing any official would want is for their community to become ill. As agencies receive information on problems, it is their duty to bring alerts and advisories to the attention of the public as soon as possible. Well….typically this is the protocol. Unless, of course, you live in Flint, Michigan. In which case you are not alerted that your water is dangerous and you are not immediately advised to stop drinking it. Instead you continue to consume it, bathe in it, wash clothes in it, cook with it, feed your babies with it, and use it for personal hygiene purposes for your whole family.
Shortly after Flint officials took the community off of Detroit water and connected them to highly corrosive Flint River water, the citizens began noticing their water change. The smell, look, and taste began to be very noticeable. All red flags that the once fresh water that came out of their faucets has been replaced with water now suspicious and untrustworthy. When residents began to complain, very official looking people took to the local news stations to assure them the water was safe to drink. Over time several boil advisories were sent out since the switch to Flint River; due to the water testing positive for Chloroform Bacteria. When the advisories were over the water again was claimed to be safe. When the highest level of leadership in your community, your mayor, takes the stage to reassure people the water is safe, people assume that is the truth. Since the switch in April of 2014 things began to unravel with the new water connection almost immediately but even as of January 2015 the city was still minimizing the water issue.
“The city water is safe to drink. My family and I drink it and use it every day,” Flint Mayor Dayne Walling told reporters at a news conference at the city’s water treatment plant. Meanwhile the residents were receiving notices that their water system violated the Safe Drinking Act.In a water quality update report dated April 2015, the city acknowledges that tests were taken from water samples and the violation of the Safe Drinking Act was due to samples testing high in TTHM’. From Chloroform bacteria to TTHM’s yet the city keeps reassuring the community the water is safe. It isn’t until several tests of Flint homes came back with high lead levels did the DEQ step in to advise the city to optimize corrosion control. In September of 2015
Marc Edwards, an expert on municipal water quality and professor at Virginia Tech, reports that “corrosiveness” of water is causing lead to leach into the supply. Soon after, the Department of Environmental Quality disputes those conclusions. That same month Dr. Mona Hannah- Attisha from Hurley Medical Center started reporting the children she was treating were coming back with high levels of lead in their blood. She too urged the city to stop using the Flint River water. It wasn’t until October 1 of 2015 that the city finally told residents to stop drinking the water. December of the same year, Governor Snyder declares an emergency. Meanwhile, citizens have been drinking this dangerous water for over a year.
This brings us to where Flint stands now. While there is a debacle of finger pointing and blame that stretches across many agencies and levels of government, something even darker than the lack of justice for these folks is looming. The effects this poison has had on children, families, community, and generations to follow. If you are unfamiliar with what lead exposure and poisoning can cause, let’s go over a few issues. First, it needs to be said that there is no safe amount of lead exposure. Children absorb more lead than adults and a pregnant mother’s developing baby is at risk for adverse health defects. So focusing on unborn babies and children, some issues these children will most likely be facing include: damage to their developing brains, nervous system, and other organ systems. Prolonged or permanent neurobehavioral disorders, aggressive behavior, regression in already learned activities and skills, headaches, sleeplessness, skin rashes, longer reaction time, learning disabilities, and more. And as for mom, exposure to lead even in the past gets stored in the bones. It gets released during times of calcium stress such as pregnancy. If mom has elevated lead levels this increases her chance of preterm labor, miscarriages, still birth, and low birth rate. On top of the effects the lead will directly have upon the baby, these are also effects that can occur during the pregnancy.
So what do you think life will be like for thousands of these children in the next few years? Counseling, rise in school drop-out rates, medical needs, behavior problems both in school, at home, and in society, depression. Now let’s fast forward a few more years. Increased drug use, alcohol abuse, violence, crime, incarceration, domestic abuse and even self-harm. This may be the extreme end of things as there will be many children who learn to cope with their issues. But, those who do not will be a huge impact on the community in which they reside. Think about that community as it stands now due to GM terminating 29,400 jobs. The unemployment rate is hovering around 10%. The average median income is around $25,000. The poverty rate in Flint is at 41.6%. Clearly the community was already facing many issues. To add these health effects on top of an already struggling community is frankly, unfathomable. This is beyond a scandal. Those who are responsible for the atrocities inflicted upon this community we all hope will be brought to justice. But how can you serve justice if you do not understand what exactly these people have done to a whole community. Let it sink in. Imagine this was your community, your children. Your sleepless nights, your doctors appointments, your breakdowns alone in the car when you think about what has been done to your children. The not knowing of what their future holds. Will they be happy, healthy, successful or normal? These are the thoughts that this community must face every day. As parents we strive to protect our children from harm and people who may want to harm them. It is hard to accept that we are in a time where those who make decisions to harm them are in the highest level of public office. They receive the best pay, the nicest office, and all paid for by you. This community is forced to pay wages and even attorney fees to the very people that poisoned their children. Forced to pay bills for the very water that poisoned their children. And while the city makes arrests for petty crimes and chooses to track those of us who speak out against what they have done. The true criminals, the true threat to the average Americans are booking their summer vacations.
You may have seen people and groups taking on Flint as if this is their own community. That’s because in a way it is. They are moms and dads, children, friends, and neighbors. Just like us. And while today Flint is in the spotlight tomorrow your city could be the next headline. We have depended on the government to keep our communities safe and healthy, they have failed. We have depended on them to remove those who are willing to harm us. They have failed. We have depended on them to step up and fix the problems in Flint, again they have failed. When it comes to human life, there is no room for failure. We the people of this country have made it our mission to not accept any more failures or excuses. Flint Michigan, the great people of this country care for you and will stand and fight for you and see this until end.