Over four years after the story of the Flint Water Crisis first made headlines around the world, the residents of Flint, Michigan, still do not have access to clean drinking water. Although the health and economic consequences have been monumental, the primary lasting effect for many residents is regaining their trust in the government who failed to protect them.
In April of 2014, the city of Flint switched their water supply from the Detroit water system to the Flint River in an effort to save money for the city. The water from the Flint River is 19 times more acidicthan the Detroit water system and, due to improper treatment, began to leach lead from the pipes. Soon after the switch, residents of Flint reported brown, foul-smelling water coming from their taps. Despite this, government officials maintained that the water was safe to drink, with one spokesman for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality publicly statingthat “anyone who is concerned about the drinking water in Flint can relax.” During this period, various health issues began to plague the people of Flint. Twelve people diedfrom waterborne Legionnaires’ disease, which is caused by breathing in bacteria through dirty water mist. Over 300 miscarriages were reportedduring the same period and are considered to be a direct result of the contaminated water. Increased behavioral problems and learning disabilities were seen in children exposed to the water, as well as mysterious rashesthat appeared after bathing. Finally, over a year and a half after the water supply was switched, the state government acknowledgedthat the water was contaminated by leak and advised residents to stop it.
Image Courtesy of Edward Kimmel via Wikimedia Images © 2017, some rights reserved
Flint is considered to be one of the poorest cities in the United States, with over 40 percent of its residents living below the poverty line. Additionally, over half of the city’s population is black. For many Flint residents, this is the key to understanding why their cries for help were ignored for so long. In a recent interview with NPR, Jeneyah McDonald, who lives in Flint,statedthat “honestly, I feel like it was done on purpose because Flint is predominantly black… I feel like it’s pretty much where the nation is right now. You see young black boys getting murdered by white police officers all across the nation. So what do I think as a black mother raising black boys? How do I think a government that’s predominantly white – how do they – they showed me what they feel about me and us here in Flint. They showed us. Everyone wants to say racism is not alive. It is so alive, and it’s so sad.”
For two years, the government of the state of Michigan provided bottled water to the residents of Flint for cooking and bathing. In April of this year, though, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder announced with little warning that they would stop supplying bottled water as the city’s tap water was reported to be safe to drink. The Mayor of Flint, as well as the city’s residents, disagrees, arguing that the water will only be safe once all of the corroded pipes are replaced. Kaleka Lewis Harris, who lives in Flint, told NPRthat despite Snyder’s assurance, she does not drink the Flint tap water, stating that “the trust is gone. The trust is gone for everybody.”
Although the Flint Water Crisis is no longer making international headlines, the people who live there continue to deal with the problems created by the water crisis. After visiting the city, NPR’s Ari Shapiro says that “on one level, this story in Flint is about water. On another level, however, it is about trust in government, feeling like your voice matters and that elected leaders care about you. Pipes are hard to fix. Those other things are even harder.”
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