Jan 28 2016

Flint’s Water Crisis Is a Warning to Us All

Published by Truthdig.com on January 28, 2016

Carlos Osorio / AP

By now most Americans have heard about the water crisis in Flint, a Michigan city of about 100,000 with a majority black population and high levels of lead in its water. With companies like Wal-Mart and Coca-Cola offering to donate millions of bottles of water to the city’s residents, there is a danger that the story of Flint will be seen as a calamity that turned into a saga of hope through charity.

The prevailing story is that a bankrupt government, desperate to save a few million dollars, switched the city’s water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River and thereby ended a contract with the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD). The river water contains toxins and also lacks appropriate chemicals, resulting in Flint’s aging pipes leaching dangerous levels of lead into the water supply. Residents were also exposed to E. coli and Legionnaires’ disease from the tainted water. Additionally, the pipes are now permanently damaged, putting the cost of repair at a much higher number than the initial savings.

But some are suggesting that the switch in supply had a more perverse motivation than saving money. A Detroit news website called the Motor City Muckraker obtained information that revealed DWSD made several offers to sell Flint water at reduced rates that “would have saved the city $800 million over 30 years.” According to the Muckraker, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder released internal correspondence from 2014 and 2015 after the story broke but “he refused to release e-mails from 2013, which would have showed why state officials decided to make the switch.” The report’s author speculated that perhaps “Snyder was motivated by a desire to break up DWSD and ultimately privatize it.”

An attempt to privatize water supplies in Michigan would not at all be surprising. Many Detroit residents recently struggled with failing to pay their water bills and as a result suffered a draconian reaction from the DWSD. The city responded by calling for proposals to privatize its water supply.

It is notable that a majority black city has suffered such a crisis. It is also important to note that undocumented immigrants in Flint have been among the hardest hit, denied access to the emergency bottled water because of ID requirements and fear of deportation. There is an undeniable element of environmental racism in this story. Of course, Gov. Snyder vehemently denies the accusation. In an interview on MSNBC, when asked if environmental racism was at play, he denied it, saying “absolutely not.”

But Snyder’s reputation is in tatters—many have accused him of nefarious activity and engaging in a cover-up. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has called on him to resign, and others have filed lawsuits and held demonstrations. In fact, Snyder and other government officials for nearly two years had denied there were water problems in Flint.

It was only because a mother, who suspected that something in the water was causing health problems in her family, complained to an EPA lead scientist that any action was taken to address the problem. A volunteer team of researchers from Virginia Tech University conducted a study of Flint’s water supply and concluded that its safety was severely compromised. Siddhartha Roy, a Ph.D. student at the school, was one of the volunteers. In an interview on “Uprising,” he told me that “when we made our water results public, we were surprised and shocked to see [the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality] downplaying the effects of lead in water, ridiculing the results that all of us had released, and even questioning the results of a local Flint pediatrician.” He added, “They tried to discredit us researchers.”

Eventually, of course, the scientists were vindicated—but not before thousands of residents had been poisoned. It is tragic that ordinary people were compelled to join forces and fight government authorities to convince them that a major public health disaster was unfolding. The level of betrayal in Flint by a government against the very people it is supposed to protect is staggering.

And it’s not over. Despite the huge amount of national attention this story has gotten, including an op-ed by the New York Times, “Fix Flint’s Water System Now,” officials are bizarrely digging their heels in. Adding insult to injury, Flint residents are being asked to pay for the water that poisoned them. Even Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, initially reluctant to investigate the authorities, was shocked by this and said, “Words can barely describe this tragedy. Things went terribly wrong. … I would certainly not bathe a newborn child or a young infant in this bad water, and if you can’t drink the bad water, you shouldn’t pay for it.”

But even if Flint’s water infrastructure were entirely rebuilt tomorrow, with clean water running through the pipes and city residents being compensated for long periods of paying for their own poisoning, the question remains: What about the damage already done?

“Lead is a neurotoxin. It’s one of the best-known neurotoxins on the planet,” said Roy, the Virginia Tech researcher. He added, “The Romans knew about it 2,000 years ago. There is no dispute that lead causes neurological, cognitive problems, drop in IQ points, and later on in life, it has even been linked to crime.”

Research by the University of Cincinnati last year confirmed what previous studies have shown: that early exposure to lead is strongly linked to crime. Scientists followed a group of 300 in a majority black Cincinnati neighborhood where people had been exposed to lead. They found that:

For those who had been exposed to lead as toddlers, even in small amounts, the scans revealed changes that were subtle, permanent and devastating. The toxic metal had robbed them of gray matter in the parts of the brain that enable people to pay attention, regulate emotions and control impulses. Lead also had scrambled the production of white matter that transmits signals between different parts of the brain, largely by mimicking calcium, an element that plays a critical role in brain development.

The lasting impact of lead poisoning on Flint’s children in particular is a tragedy of epic proportions. As a mother, I cannot begin to imagine the heartbreak and fear that parents there are experiencing as they wonder if their children, the most precious beings in their lives, are permanently damaged.

With Flint’s crisis yet to be resolved, a similar disaster may be unfolding in Ohio. Residents of a small town called Sebring, near Cleveland, are being asked to refrain from drinking their water over concerns of lead contamination.

The American Society of Civil Engineers’ latest report on national infrastructure in the U.S. gave the nation a D on drinking water. The report ominously warns that “much of our drinking water infrastructure is nearing the end of its useful life.”

Having good water is a basic right—as water is the most basic necessity for human life. In the coming years, with climate change making access to fresh drinking water difficult, the U.S. and the rest of the world will be in enough trouble. But if our own water infrastructure is failing, the likelihood of more Flint-like crises is frighteningly high. We ought to study this crisis carefully, including how government officials stonewalled residents, doctors and scientists, and how the residents fought back.

No one should have to experience what the people of Flint have suffered.

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Flint’s Water Crisis Is a Warning to Us All”

  1. garyon 28 Jan 2016 at 6:37 pm

    it is a bad situation in flint no doubt, BUT can’t any of you see the role in big government in all of this? all the rules regulations and hurtles are in place specifically because the liberal view mandate the nanny state system and rules which you just fell on you face from…

    ” Having good water is a basic right—as water is the most basic necessity for human life. In the coming years, with climate change making access to fresh drinking water difficult…….”

    where is that written down its a” basic right” as opposed to what? nonsense, yes the city should supply potable water to the populous, there is no law or mandate to that effect anywhere though. it is a business and service like any other, unfortunately flint is near bankrupt and when detroit got wind of them soon to change water providers they gouged flint, and forced the the current outcome, who at KPFK is up in arms about that issue, hmmmmm? never point the fingers at facts just make way for more governement. the city was stupid not to treat the water to prevent the lead leeching, on the other hand it was testing but not in the right places obviously to get the high level findings in some residents homes.

    and finally OH PLEASE first it was global warming now satellite data has debunked that now you shift gears and call it climate change, this planet has shifted from being a giant ice ball for millions of year then to a hot climate, in all of planet history this last 10,000 years the golilocks climate period is coming to an end with or without human intervention, this is the longest period in planet history of such ideal climatic conditions, we have overstayed our welcome, think about it, neanderthal man lived in an icebox as the planet was coming out of a deep freeze allowing us to come into being as modern man with a warming climate, i know no buddy is suppose to talk facts here, sorry for that we need more government control and if that is the case why was nothing appropriated from the billions recently spent and nothing came from it except bailing out ailing car companies in towns like flint which are still going BK….. the money should have gone to real shovel ready jobs like pulling up lead pipes in these old cities and replaced. honestly if this was a white community, would it get the press this has here? doubtful and that is even a bigger travesty, there are rural town all around with water problem BUT the demographics make it totally prohibitive for you to even mention them. lastly the stonewalling of government to residents, again oversize liberal endorsed bureaucracies that feed on themselves and no other and serve no one but themselves but what you and this community here are proponents of entirely can never serve the people ever. as this nation implodes from lack or true character and only superficial chest beating and political and social sensitivity that come from nations and societies at their zeniths on the way out because the one rules the remainders we are in store for a allot more of these no one should experience episode of greater and more dramatic proportions. vocal minorities of whatever color, race or creed will not always take center stage to politicians with their concerns as they are not their concerns especially in a city like flint which is falling apart financially at its seems and to the point it cannot even makes its financial obligations to even concoct such a crazy ideas as to pump river water to supplant detroit water to make ends meet. think about it, that pretty serious is it not? yet nothing is thought of or said about this at all as a bigger and more serious issue and causation dilemma facing many cities in america. the country is a wreck, despite what is said from the white house, here is the proof yet you want to believe and say otherwise and turn the blame elsewhere and incite for more government to protect us and care for us, more, more, more, what is happening!!! right? things have begun to run out, there is no more get ready for what is coming because it has been brought about by what is done and how this country is run today from the white house down to chicago, la and flint. the real bigger causal issue no one wants to touch is overpopulation and unchecked immigration fueling this increase of population when like you state water is in short supply its not climate it is populous consumption, the populations from these immigrants will change the demographics of the country as they are having the children, not the locals posing a more liberal leaning society which is the plan to keep the political status quo in power and not care about water issues or other issues or “rights” but let you talk all day about it and encourage it to keep you occupied till its too late for any of us little people, just give lip service to garner votes and keep the status quo till it all runs out and by that time those in power wont care the least bit, they will have the power, the money, the water all the “rights” you expound on here flipping you off by that time as you wont have anything to do or say about it as you struggle to survive day to day from the collapse brought on by liberalism and this social reform.

  2. CLIFFORDon 02 Feb 2016 at 6:25 pm


    Your “essay”–if I can call it that–overlooks a good deal, as many conservative rants do… The General Assembly declared that clean drinking water is “essential to the full enjoyment of life and all other human rights”. In September, 2010, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution recognizing that the human right to water and sanitation are a part of the right to an adequate standard of living. Going further back, at the March 2009 United Nations (UN) meetings, coinciding with the World Water Forum, Canada, Russia, and the United States refused to support a declaration that would recognize water as a basic human right. But this flies in the face of considerable evidence that access to water, which is essential for health, is under threat… According to the World Health Organization, 1.2 billion people worldwide don’t have access to clean drinking water, and a further 2.6 billion lack adequate sanitation services; these numbers are expected to rise. The UN has estimated that 2.8 billion people in 48 countries will be living in conditions of water stress or scarcity by 2025.

    There are at least three common sense reasons why access to clean water should be declared a basic human right:

    First, access to clean water can substantially reduce the global burden of disease caused by water-borne infections. Millions of people are affected annually by a range of water-borne diseases including diarrhea, for instance, which is responsible for 1.8 million preventable deaths per year, mostly among children under the age of five.

    Second, the privatization of water—as witnessed in Bolivia, Ghana and other countries—has not effectively served the poor, who suffer the most from lack of access to clean water. As Maude Barlow, senior advisor on water issues to the president of the General Assembly of the UN, has argued, “high water rates, cut-offs to the poor, reduced services, broken promises and pollution have been the legacy of privatization.”

    Third, the prospect of global water scarcity—exacerbated by climate change, industrial pollution, and population growth (among other influences)—means that no country is immune to a water crisis. The United States is facing the greatest water shortages in its history, and in Australia severe drought has caused dangerous water shortages in the Murray-Darling river basin, which provides the bulk of its food supply–so much so that current estimates forecast the river will no longer make its way to the ocean by 2025…

    Beyond the foregoing I don’t think your opinions warrant much in the way of a response–other than to say your grammar–like your morally vacant viewpoints–are deplorable. Do write back when you learn to spell.