By Meagan Waller
Edited by Cynthia Swisher
The consequence of poisoning someone is usually arrest, prosecution, and conviction, but what happens when someone poisons an entire city? In Flint, Michigan this question isn’t rhetorical. Flint residents have been poisoned by the very people tasked with keeping them safe—their government, and Governor Rick Snyder in particular. Snyder would like to distance himself from accusations that he’s ultimately accountable for giving an entire city lead-poisoning. We should not allow that to happen.
In April 2014, Flint switched their water supplier from a Detroit-based system using Lake Huron to a supplier using the Flint River. General Motors used the Flint River as a dumping ground for decades. One resident remarked, “I thought it was one of those Onion articles. We already knew the Flint River was toxic waste.” The cause of this chewing-tobacco-spit colored water, according to Virginia Tech University, is lead leaching into the waters. The highly corrosive water was eating away at the pipes—over half had been made of lead. VT tested water from 300 sample kits; the results were frightening: of 120 initial samples 42% had lead levels that suggested, “a serious lead-in-water problem,” and 20% exceeded 15 parts-per-billion(ppb). The EPA is required to take action if more than 10% of samples exceed 15ppb. Lead is a potent neurotoxin; it causes developmental delay, is linked to criminality, and its impact can span multiple generations. Children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems are especially vulnerable to the irreversible effects of lead poisoning.
In his January 19th State of the State address Snyder said that the crisis began in the spring of 2013 when Flint’s City Council voted 7-1 to switch water suppliers from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) to the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA). He conveniently left out that the emergency manager heit was referendum-proof. In the same address Snyder pledged “full transparency.” He released emails related to the water crisis from 2014-2015. However, the vote that Snyder asserted began the water crisis happened in 2013. Snyder’s full transparency seems rather opaque; without emails from the pertinent year, it’s impossible to know why the state would make the switch from DWSD to KWA. An independently released email sent in 2013 from then DWSD director Sue McCormick showed that if Flint had stayed with DWSD the city would have saved $800 million over 30 years, 20% of the cost of switching to KWA. Emergency managers, it’s claimed, bring financial stability to crumbling cities. But not only did the KWA plan cost more than the already existing DWSD plan, but the cost to fix the water infrastructure in Flint could also total $1.5billion. How’s that for fiscal responsibility?
The emails that Snyder released paint the administration as callously indifferent to the people of Flint. In an email from March 2015, the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) dismissed concerns about Flint’s water saying, “It’s not like an eminent threat to public health”. Another email, from January 0f that year, showed that a resident, concerned about her son’s blood lead levels, was told by a state nurse that, “It’s just a few IQ points, it’s not the end of the world.” The DEQ waited until October 18th to acknowledge their role in this disaster, including declining help from the EPA to understand how to provide proper corrosion control to the water. They later admitted they were confused about the requirements. With adequate corrosion control, none of this would have happened. Even after the EPA warned that, “the state was testing water in a way that could profoundly understate the lead levels,” the administration didn’t stop leaning on their faulty testing to delay taking action on this crisis.
Ultimately, Snyder needs to be dealt with. he has shown a clear pattern of being incompetent at best, and criminally negligent at worst. While we wait to see what fate is in store for Snyder, the people in Flint still need clean water and we can help.