Flint, Michigan One Year Later: Where Are We Now and a New Crisis Emerging

Marissa Laramie, Current Events and Sports Editor

About this time last year news broke that the water supply of the largest city in Genesee County, Michigan, Flint, was contaminated with toxic levels of lead and that the residents, especially the children, were slowly being poisoned by it. All of this began in April 2014 when the city switched their water supply from the one shared with Detroit to using the Flint River. Officials did not test the water or check pipes for corrosion at first, opting to take a “wait and see” stance instead. Within the next few weeks, residents began to complain about the smell and color of their water. Before it was even found that dangerous amounts of lead were in the water, residents were advised to boil water before using it as E. Coli and Coliform bacteria were found in the water. Months later in January 2015, Flint was found to be in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act as there was a dangerous level of trihalomethanes (TTHM), a known carcinogen, in the water as well.

Less than a month later, water tests conducted in Flint resident Lee Ann Walter’s home revealed that there were highly dangerous levels of led in her water. Soon afterwards, her child was diagnosed with lead poisoning. Researchers from Virginia Tech preformed further tests which found some levels to be as high as 13,200 ppb, where water is considered hazardous at 5,000 ppb. As word spread, the city did what it could to try to calm down the residents, including leading them to believe it was an isolated incident. However, the façade came down after further tests were conducted showing that it wasn’t isolated and pediatricians noticed the incidence of high lead levels in children under the age of five’s blood had nearly doubled. Flint’s mayor, Karen Weaver, declared a state of emergency on December 14, 2015, which preceded key state regulation official’s resignations later that month along with President Obama and Governor Snyder also declaring a state of emergency in January of 2016. The water was switched back to the system Detroit uses and numerous lawsuits have been made against officials and corporations.

Now the tide has shifted and Flint, Michigan no longer is the top story of our news broadcasts, but what have we learned and what has been done? Many residents plan on moving out of the city after everything they’ve had to go through, there’s a major distrust between citizens and government officials. However, not everyone has this option. Forty percent of Flint’s residents fall under the poverty line and have no choice but to stay. Such people have said that although the water supply has been changed, the pipes contaminated have not and, therefore, they are still using water with lead. Although it has been found that the number of children with high levels of lead have gone down, children are still facing symptoms such as hair loss, slow growth, and chronic pain. It is estimated that it will cost one billion dollars to replace all the pipes in the city. In the aftermath, it has also been found that Flint isn’t the only city on the map with high lead levels. As of this past June, it has been found that 5,300 US water systems are in violation of laws regarding lead.

For now, residents still find it difficult to trust any source of water unless it’s bottled, filter or not. Due to this, Flint could be facing a new crisis. Earlier this month, an outbreak of Shigellosis began to spread in Flint. The bacteria that causes the illness is spread through ingesting contaminated foods and is commonly associated with inadequate hand washing. Obviously, because the residents don’t trust the water supply they either aren’t washing well enough or even washing at all. While the illness usually resolves in five to seven days and generally has mild complications, this could be a sign of what’s to come. Shigellosis might just be the beginning and who knows what could emerge next. With attention focused elsewhere, what is being done for the other water supplies that were found to be tainted? Access to clean, safe water should be a right for every American but too many are being deprived of that. As many advocates for clean water have said, “water is life”, and that’s exactly how we should be treating it.