Water contamination is a serious problem throughout the world, but as Americans, we mainly think of this issue as something that applies to third-world countries exclusively. Therefore, it was shocking for many when stories surfaced in January regarding severe water contamination in the city of Flint, Michigan.
Ongoing complaints about the smell, taste, and discoloration of the water date back to 2014, yet the state “downplayed and largely ignored” the issue (USA Today). It was not until January 5th of this year that Michigan governor Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency.
The issue stems from Flint city officials’ decision to source water from the Flint River in an effort to save money while a new water line to the previous supply at Lake Huron was under construction. The city failed to test and properly treat the temporary water supply which turned out to be highly acidic; this accelerated the corrosion of the city’s lead pipes, releasing significant traces of lead into the water supply. Even after the city switched back to the Lake Huron water, lead continued to be present due to the way the that the acidic water from the Flint River had degraded the pipes.
The contamination affects everyone in the city who drank or bathed in the water, but it is especially damaging to young children who are known to be more susceptible to lead poisoning. Symptoms may include developmental delays, learning difficulties, irritability, and hearing loss in children while adults may experience mood disorders, memory loss, muscle and joint pain, and reproductive issues (Mayo Clinic). Lead poisoning is especially difficult to treat because symptoms may not present themselves until months or even years after the lead exposure occurred.
Governor Snyder issued a statement last week admitting that he had failed to handle the crisis properly. “Government failed you at the federal, state and local level,” he said as he addressed the people of Flint. “I’m sorry and I will fix it” (USA Today).
Around 5 million dollars in federal aid was made available to Flint upon the declaration of a state of emergency, but it will take time and likely even more money in order to repair the city’s water infrastructure.
Even more concerning though is the fact that government officials were aware of the toxicity of the water long before Flint gained national attention, continuing a classic trend of high level shot callers valuing financial gains over the well being of the people they represent. Despite the obvious danger posed by the situation, these officials dodged complaints, leaving future generations of Flint citizens to pay the price with their health, and others stunned as to how a community in the richest nation in the world could be denied access to clean water.
Durando, Jessica. “Flint’s Drinking Water Crisis: 5 Things to Know.” USA Today. Gannett, 19
Jan. 2016. Web. 28 Jan. 2016.
“Lead Poisoning.” Symptoms. Mayo Clinic, 10 June 2014. Web. 28 Jan. 2016.