Thursday, January 21, 2016

Flint, Michigan Water Crisis

Nearly two years ago, Flint Michigan, which is about 70 miles from the Great Lakes, decided to save money by switching it's water supply from Lake Huron (which they were paying the city of Detroit for), to the Flint River, a notorious tributary that runs through town known to locals for its filth.
    The switch was made during a financial state of emergency and was supposed to be temporary while a new state-run supply line to Lake Huron was ready for connection. The project was estimated to take about two years.  Soon after the switch, the water started to look, smell and taste funny. Residents said it often looked dirty.
    It was actually iron. The Flint River is highly corrosive: 19 times more so than the Lake Huron supply, according to researchers from Virginia Tech.
    According to a class-action lawsuit, the state Department of Environmental Quality wasn't treating the Flint River water with an anti-corrosive agent, in violation of federal law. Therefore, the water was eroding the iron water mains, turning water brown.
    But what residents couldn't see was far worse. About half of the service lines to homes in Flint are made of lead and because the water wasn't properly treated, lead began leaching into the water supply, in addition to the iron.
    This had been the status quo for nearly two years, and until September, city and state officials told worried residents that everything was fine. Former Flint Mayor Dayne Walling even drank it on local TV to make the point.
    But in August, a group of skeptical researchers from Virginia Tech came up and did in-home testing and found elevated levels of lead in the drinking water and made those findings public. State officials insisted their own research was more accurate.
    Later it became publicly known that federal law had not been followed. A 2011 study on the Flint River found it would have to be treated with an anti-corrosive agent for it to be considered as a safe source for drinking water.
    Adding that agent would have cost about $100 a day, and experts say 90% of the problems with Flint's water would have been avoided.
    But Flint residents say they were kept in the dark for 18 months until a local doctor took things into her own hands.  In the pediatric ward of Flint's Hurley Medical Center, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha was seeing more and more worried parents fretting over rashes and hair loss.  No one believed state and local officials when they said that this icky brown water was safe.
    At first, the state publicly denounced her work, saying she was causing near hysteria. They spent a week attacking her before reversing their narrative and admitting she was right.  They were being told by the DEQ that there wasn't a problem.
    In October, the city reverted to using Detroit's Lake Huron water supply, but the damage was done to the lead pipes.  Even with properly treated water flowing in, Virginia Tech researchers still detected lead levels -- albeit lower ones -- in water in Flint homes.
    The state is now handing out filters and bottled water.
    In 2011, Flint was declared to be in a financial state of emergency, and the state took budgetary control. Therefore, all the decisions made during the water crisis were at the state level, which state officials confirmed, not by the City Council or the mayor.
    When the governor appointed an emergency financial manager (in 2011), that person came here ... to simply do one thing and one thing only, and that's cut the budget.
    Lead poisoning is irreversible.  It drops your IQ, it affects your behavior, it's been linked to criminality, it has multigenerational impacts. There is no safe level of lead in a child.
    A state-appointed task force preliminarily found that fault lies with the state DEQ, and on December 29.  Last week, three months after high lead levels were detected in Flint children, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency over the issue.
    The U.S. Attorney in Michigan and the federal Environmental Protection Agency are also investigating why the state chose to ignore federal law and go without the anti-corrosive agent, as the lawsuit contends
    Residents, the former mayor, the current mayor, Congressman Kildee, city workers -- they all blame the governor's office and the state Department of Environmental Quality for what happened to Flint.  (CNN, 1/19/2016)

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