Flint: In the Shadows (Again)

Almost 5 months after President Obama’s visit to Flint, Michigan residents continue to report widespread water contamination.

In April of 2014, the city of Flint, Michigan switched its water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River. The switch was portrayed as an effort to save money. For decades, the Flint River had been known for its poor water quality. Reports from the State of Michigan Department of Natural Resources dating back to the 1970’s reported that the river’s degraded water was due to the presence of fecal bacteria, low dissolved oxygen, plant nutrients, and toxic substances. Over 40 years later a class-action lawsuit discovered that the State Department of Environmental Quality was not treating the river with an anti-corrosive agent, resulting in the leaching of lead into Flint’s main water supply. Without the anti-corrosive agent, residents of Flint quickly began to notice water discoloration, and within mere days took notice of rashes and decreased mental capabilities. Thousands of Flint residents reported their observations on the issue, yet for over a year and a half their municipal government was reluctant to admit that there was a problem.

Approximately two years after Flint’s water supply switch, mainstream media and the federal government began to take notice. Media sources like CNN, MSNBC, and The Wall Street Journal began reporting and writing dozens of articles about city officials’ neglect of the water crisis. Flint’s water corrosion scandal gained national attention. There were efforts around the country to help Flint and its residents gain access to clean water. In May of 2016, President Obama insisted that politicians in Michigan solve the disaster, provide water filters to its people, and replace the city’s corroded lead pipes.

As of September of 2016, Flint’s water crisis is far from being resolved. Throughout the summer months of 2016, local lawsuits and investigations uncovered an array of facts regarding persons involved in the crisis cover-up. The city and state governments’ neglect of the public health issue resulted in thousands of lead-poisoning cases and almost 100 cases of legionnaires disease, ten of which were fatal. Darnell Earley, the emergency manager who approved the switch from Lake Huron to The Flint River, was discovered to have connections to the fracking industry and billion dollar corporations such as Nestle, a corporation which makes millions of dollars from the sale of bottled water. Mike Glasgow’s charges of tampering with evidence and willful neglect of duty involving the water crisis were dismissed on May 4th. (Mike Glasgow is a former water treatment plant operator in Flint, Michigan who claims that he was instructed by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to alter water reports with high lead concentrations). Two companies, Veolia North America and Lockwood, Andrews, and Newman, were charged with negligence and public nuisance in civil lawsuits in late June. However, these companies responded that it was disappointing and shocking that the lawsuits ignored that their companies’ involvement was simply operation of equipment; yet, regulations and key decisions behind the crisis were made by the City of Flint and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Additionally, the Governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, hired a public relations (PR) firm recently which has reportedly been working very diligently with him to assure Flint citizens that their water is reasonably safe. Snyder and his PR team have created billboards, brochures, and websites advising citizens to simply use a water filter. Lastly, after promising the replacement of all lead pipes in homes throughout Flint, only 33 out of 1,000+ have been replaced. Those 33 were fixed just days before or during the visit by President Obama.

Citizens of Flint, Michigan are still spending large sums of money purchasing bottled water, in addition to paying bills for contaminated water. On September 9th, 2016 one resident explained to reporter, Jordan Chariton of the Young Turks “lead is the least of our worries.” She explains that water contamination in Flint has not only resulted in lead poisoning, but also in other illnesses such as legionnaires and dysentery. Dysentery is a disease common during the 19th century that was a result of ingesting contaminated water.

It is now October of 2016 and there remains very little positive news on Flint’s situation. After President Obama’s visit in May, progress seems to have come to an anticipated halt. Is Flint, Michigan just another example of a crisis left behind by the American press and government? What happens to the people of Flint when CNN and MSNBC close their doors and open them to another hot-button issue in the country?  We don’t know who is left to speak up for the people of Flint, and who will hold their perpetrators accountable is one of the thousands of unanswered questions regarding the crisis.

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