Flint Water Crisis

Ashley Bankhead, Opinion Editor

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Given all of the uproar about the “water crisis” in Flint, I think it’s time to have a legit conversation about the actual problems in the situation. One of the biggest issues people seem to have with the Flint situation is racial discrimination. I think many people don’t understand that because minorities are often the victims of injustice does not mean that they are necessarily racially motivated. Due to the makeup of our country’s history, poor communities are often made up of minorities. On the same note, these poorer communities also tend to have less structure and are less strict than bigger, richer cities. For example, police brutality is most definitely getting progressively worse but it is not restricted to minorities. Washington Post did an investigation into statistics of fatal police shootings. Of the 990 fatal shooting by police 547 were white citizens, 279 were black, and 181 were Hispanic. However, more often than not we only hear about the minority police shootings.

In a similar fashion, we tend to hear more about problems within communities whose demographics are predominantly poor minorities. Why? Because it is easier to rally a cause around race rather than poverty. Water contamination is problem across the United States and has been for years. It is only now that Flint has made an uproar that it is being brought to the general public spotlight. With this in mind, I think we may need to reevaluate the motivations behind the circumstances in Flint. According to the US Census, 41.5% of Flint’s citizens live below the poverty line. Yes, there is a significant racial division (56.6% black compared to 37.4% white citizens), however I think the economic differences are more drastic and relevant. Poorer communities are less likely to vote for city officials, which leaves doors open for misuse of power. To me, it seems more likely that citizens in Flint are being treated poorly because they are in poverty. So instead of deeming every politician involved a racist, we should instead consider other reasons for this type of neglect.

So what exactly were the events that led to the present problem? Let’s look at the political events in Flint within the past couple of years. The story starts when in an effort to decrease the city’s upkeep costs, the city council decided to split ways with Detroit Water and Sewage Department (DWSD) for the less expensive Karengodi Water Authority (KWA). On April 16th of 2013 Ed Kurtz signs a contract with KWA. Beginning in July 2014, Flint begins a year long period of monitoring the river water for lead and copper. On February 3rd of 2015 Governor Rick Snyder grans Flint $2 million to fix leaks in the pipes and replace the wastewater incinerator for the town. Later that month the EPA and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) begin to talk about the high lead content found in the water. During these discussion the DEQ assured the EPA that Flint had a highly effective corrosion control system in place. The next month the Flint water consultant sends out a report saying that the water meets both federal and state standard but fails to mention the lead contamination. The EPA has a regulatory suggestion that any time water exceeds 15 parts per billion (ppb) of lead steps should be taken to reduce it. On March 30th of 2015 the DEQ notifies officials that the lead content of the water from the first half of the monitoring period was 6ppb. In April of the same year, the DEQ further went on to say that there were no corrosion control procedures in place. In May, the EPA and DEQ again have a discussion, this time concerning the water in some of the town’s houses. The EPA Region 5 administrator suggested that “it would be premature to draw any conclusions” on the lead situation. At the end of July the DEQ talks with the EPA about requirements for a corrosion control system. On August 17th the DEQ tells Flint that corrosion control needs to be improved due to an 11ppb reading of the water tested in the second part of the monitoring period. When corrosion reaches a certain level, it can cause breaks and leaks in the pipes.

Without frequent investigation and upkeep these breaks decrease the amount of time that detoxifying chlorine is in contact with the water and increases the contamination content. This increase in contamination also increases the corrosive properties of the water. Once the water becomes corrosive enough it begins to eat away at already failing pipe systems in a fairly simple feedback loop. On October 1st of 2015 the City of Flint tells residents to not use the water for drinking. The next day, Governor Snyder releases a $1 million plan to address the water systems including new water filters and anticorrosion treatments. On the 8th, he announces a plan to reconnect back with the DWSD. On October 15th, the governor signs a contract with DWSD with financial help from the Mott Foundation. Flint is reconnected with DWSD the following day. In December, Flint began to implement more corrosive control procedures. On December 14th the City of Flint declares a state of emergency. On January 11 of 2016, Governor Snyder signs an Executive Order to integrate the Flint Water Interagency Coordinating Committee to develop long term plans and solutions to the water crisis. Later in the month Governor Snyder requests assistance from FEMA and employs the Michigan National Guard to help with fresh water distribution. He also asked President Obama to declare a major disaster and emergency state in order to get federal aid. On January 16th, President Obama approves a declaration of emergency and grants federal aid. However, he denied the request for a declaration of major disaster. So while yes, Governor Snyder most likely should have done something to fix this situation earlier, he is not the only person to blame her. Several other committees and official disregarded a relatively simple problem until it blew completely out of proportion.

All in all, I personally believe that many people are misinformed about the Flint situation. While it is very important to fix problems like this, it is equally important to understand how they come about. Until we can solve the underlying problems, events like this will continue to happen over and over again. So just in time for elections, let’s use this lesson to vote in officials who actually will take the time to monitor situations in their respective areas before they become a major problem like this example. I also believed that we need to stop blaming racial discrimination on every problem that we have as a country. Too often misguided accusations can slow or otherwise hamper relief attempts. With so many protests and wild accusations being thrown people are much less likely to be willing to get their hands dirty in the process of helping.