It has been four years too long since the residents of Flint were forced to drink poison in order for a pipeline to be built. High levels of lead are still being found across the city, including in local public schools, yet this is not being reported widely across the state. When Emergency Manager Ed Kurtz signed the order to switch residents over to the Flint River for drinking water in 2013, he was fully aware that the city’s water treatment plant could not properly treat water as shown in documents for the KWA pipeline beginning in 2009. Emails released by Rick Snyder after the fact showed that then State Treasurer Andy Dillon and then Mayor Dayne Walling were aware that staying on Detroit’s water was the most cost-effective plan, and the state’s own study by TYJT documents yet again in 2013 that Flint’s water treatment plant could not properly treat water and needed millions of dollars in upgrades. Using the Flint River as a temporary water source was a requirement of the KWA bond documents, signed off on by the State of Michigan, and that document acknowledges not just that Flint’s water treatment plant couldn’t properly treat water, but also made upgrading the plant one of the requirements of the bond deal, an upgrade that still today has yet to be made. An administrative consent order was rushed through the Department of Natural Resources for lagoon work in order to leave the additional financial burden and debt the city would be taking on to build the pipeline temporarily off the books of the financially stressed city in order to close the deal.
While lead has been the key focus of the Flint Water Crisis as a major health problem, and part of how this crisis came to light, what has been neglected are the bacterial issues and other contaminates found in the Flint River that residents were drinking without any proper treatment. While not all chemicals that have been dumped into the Flint River over the past few decades are documented, Michigan’s Fish Advisories have documented the presence of PCBs, Mercury, and PFOs. These three chemicals alone cause immune system damage, cancer, brain damage, heart problems, and thyroid issues among others just in adults. Further documented problems of exposure to young children, fetuses, and infants include developmental issues of the brain, and negative effects in growth, learning, and behavior.
Still today the state shirks and ignores its responsibility on all levels, from the Governor’s office, the Attorney General’s office, the entire state legislature, and local officials who were in the know at the time. It is a shame and a stain on our great state that 4 years after this switch, residents of Flint are still practically alone in advocating for their well-being. Their persistence and perseverance through this crisis as many of them also battle major health problems and silencing attempts by their elected representatives is beyond heroic. They are fighting for their lives, the lives of their children, and the lives of their children’s children. As Michiganders, we must all stand with them, because Flint is a canary in the coal mine. Water infrastructure across our state is crumbling, the same contaminates that have caused the myriad of health issues Flint residents are suffering from today are found in waterways across Michigan, and just a few short weeks ago hundreds of gallons of a highly toxic dielectric fluid was leaked into the Great Lakes at the Straits of Mackinac; a substance potentially fatal to humans if swallowed. What has yet to be asked in the numerous news articles about this leak is why was such a highly toxic substance allowed to be there in the first place.
In the same week that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality ignored 80,000 Michigan residents and granted Nestle’s permit to increase the amount of pumped groundwater they are making hundreds of millions of dollars in profit every year from for a fee of $200, the state announced the closure of Flint’s water pods and have stopped supplying access to bottled water to residents. It is high time for Michigan’s elected officials to start putting public health over business profits instead of the other way around, and for the residents of Flint to finally be made whole.