It’s ironic a city in the Great Lakes State would supply its residents with unsafe drinking water, huh?
It’s more than ironic, actually — it’s inexcusable.
You’ve probably heard the news by now: Residents of Flint, Michigan, were poisoned with lead. Yes, a city of nearly 100,000 people was consuming dangerous H20 for roughy 21 months before anyone with authority stepped in to help.
Here’s how the massive public health failure unfolded:
1. Aiming to cut costs, the emergency manager of Flint approved a big change in the city’s water supply in 2013.
What’s this emergency manager role, you might ask? Because of budgetary woes, Flint, at the time, was being run by a representative from the state of Michigan, Jerry Ambrose. (Yes, the idea of someone overseeing a city who was not elected to the position was already controversial long before the water crisis.)
2. Instead of buying water from Detroit, the city would begin getting its water from the notoriously unclean Flint River.
The (what we now know to be disastrous) change went into effect in April 2014.
3. The problem? The Flint River is so corrosive, it began stripping the pipes. And lead began seeping into the water.
Lead, even in very small amounts, can cause detrimental health problems in children.
4. It didn’t take long before residents noticed a difference. The water smelled odd, tasted off, and didn’t look clean.
Folks also complained that they were getting rashes on their skin.
5. In late summer and early fall 2014, the city issued boil-water advisories after unsafe bacteria was detected.
Talk about a red flag.
But in October 2014, the state assured its residents “operational steps” had been taken and that the water should be in tip-top shape moving forward. Basically, “drink away!”
6. But get this — even a GM plant in Flint refused to use the new water because it began corroding auto parts.
The city made arrangements for the plant to get its water elsewhere. As for the residents of Flint? Nope. They were stuck with what they had.
7. A year ago, in January 2015, Detroit even offered to reconnect its water system to Flint and waive the fees!
Flint’s emergency manager’s response? No thanks — we’re good. (The move would ultimately be too pricey apparently).
8. Famed activist Erin Brockovich spoke out on the matter.
Flint, she said in a Facebook post, should be added to “the list of hundreds of cities, towns, and community water systems that are failing.”
9. Things really took a turn in February 2015. An EPA manager warned Michigan officials of lead in Flint’s water.
The EPA notified Michigan leaders that the Flint River water was stripping pipes and could be allowing dangerous contaminants — including lead — to get into the water supply.
10. Gov. Rick Snyder’s chief of staff even admitted in an email that Flint’s “getting blown off by us.”
“These folks are scared and worried about the health impacts and they are basically getting blown off by us (as a state we’re just not sympathizing with their plight),” Dennis Muchmore had written to Michigan’s health department in July 2015. The public only recently learned about the email.
11. Soon after that email, an epidemiologist found lead levels skyrocketed after Flint switched its water supply.
We’re still talkin’ July 2015 — months before any substantial action was taken.
Cristin Larder from the state health department discovered big increases in lead levels in July, August, and September of the previous year — the summer following Flint’s water switch — and warned in an email her findings “warrant further investigation.”
The state’s chief medical executive, Eden Wells — who later pinpointed this revelation as a “missed opportunity” — had excused the increased lead as a mere seasonal flux.
Yes, a seasonal flux.
12. What’s more, research from Virginia Tech found 42% of the samples taken from the Flint River had elevated lead levels.
Virginia Tech professor Marc Edwards reported last September that the river’s “very corrosive” water was wreaking havoc on the city. The state’s Department of Environmental Quality not only dismissed those claims, they disputed them.
13. The same month, a doctor in Flint said children’s blood samples pointed to a jump in lead poisoning.
Just like the research from Virginia Tech, however, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha’s findings were not taken seriously by the state … at first.
14. After initially dismissing Hanna-Attisha’s claims, officials, pointing to a new analysis, admitted she was right.
Seeing as Flint is predominantly black and has a very high poverty rate, many have argued the water crisis never would have happened in a white, affluent community.
15. In October 2015, the state announced it would give out water filters to residents.
Other local groups, including Planned Parenthood, pitched in to help as well.
Flint switched back to Detroit’s water supply in October 2015.
16. Earlier this month, both Gov. Rick Snyder and President Obama declared a state of emergency in Flint.
Flint residents are not happy with the governor, to put it lightly. Protesters in Michigan’s capital, Lansing, have called for Snyder’s resignation.
17. The National Guard and American Red Cross are helping to provide bottled water to residents in need.
18. Donations from across the state have poured in to help, too — even from some big names and a beloved football team.
19. Because of Obama’s declaration, FEMA can give Flint up to $5 million in aid, too.
20. But Flint will need so much more.
Mayor Karen Weaver understands her city needs more resources — in both the short and long terms — for Flint to fully heal from the devastation and stop it from happening again.
21. What happened in Flint has made waves nationally, even prompting presidential candidates to speak out.
The situation in Flint is, by no stretch of the imagination, a disaster. But you don’t have to feel helpless.
What happened in Michigan is a (state-inflicted) tragedy. Thousands of children have been affected. A recent spike in Legionnaires’ disease (possibly resulting in 10 deaths) may also be attributed to the water supply switch. And we won’t know for some time the true extent — both economically and in terms of human health — of the damage.
Flint needs all of our support. Here’s how you can lend a helping hand.