The water crisis in Flint, Michigan should never have happened.
The community of Flint, Michigan is in crisis. Last year, the city’s emergency manager disconnected Flint from the reliable Detroit water system and connected it to the polluted Flint River. As a result, thousands of children have been exposed to lead, which can cause permanent damage to developing brains and bodies, and hundreds of people have gotten sick from bacteria in the water, with 10 recently dying from Legionnaire’s disease.
Over the past two weeks, our team has been reaching out to your fellow Story of Stuff Community members in Flint and we’ve talked to activists, researchers and community leaders on the ground. What is clear from those conversations is that the people of Flint are in dire need of immediate action from Michigan’s elected leaders: emergency funds to monitor and treat their medical needs, and $1.5 billion to make their water pipes safe to drink from again.
Over forty percent of Flint’s residents are low-income, and the majority are people of color. Decades ago a booming auto industry brought jobs to the region, and people followed. But when economic conditions changed, and many manufacturing jobs moved overseas, the community was left high and dry with high unemployment and an aging infrastructure.
Because of Flint’s economic struggles, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder took control of the city away from the democratically elected mayor and gave it to an appointed emergency manager. The emergency manager claims that he disconnected Flint from the Detroit water system and connected it to the Flint River as a cost-saving measure. Governor Snyder's appointee then failed to treat the water properly as required by the Environmental Protection Agency. As a result, chemicals that were added to kill bacteria damaged pipes in the oldest homes in Flint, polluting the water with lead.
It took independent research from a team of professors at Virginia Tech to prove there was lead in the water, and months of protesting by Flint residents before the government would admit there was a problem. By then, thousands of children’s health had been affected.
While the people of Flint are understandably focused on the immediate crisis unfolding in their city, almost everyone we talked to placed this situation in the context of a larger crisis. Most people in the United States take clean water for granted, and the United Nations has declared clean water to be a human right. How could the problems in Flint have been allowed to go on for so long?
Over the coming months, we’ll be looking at opportunities to win new investments in public water infrastructure, at the municipal, state and federal level. We hope to work with partners at the federal level to increase funding for public water. And we plan to support local communities coming up with innovative solutions of their own. In the meantime, let’s all do what we can to support the people of Flint.
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver has pointed out that while Governor Snyder has offered the citizens of Flint $28 million to assist with their current needs, it falls far short of the $600 million that Michigan has available for emergencies. Since the Governor’s policies created the current crisis, Mayor Weaver is demanding that he do all he can to address the problem, including providing a higher percentage of needed aid.