Flint Four Years Later: What has changed?
In a time of constant crisis and political scandals, many have struggled to bring attention back to one of the big public health disasters of the past decade: Flint, Michigan. In one instance, representative Ro Khanna (D-Ca) rightly notes the irony of the recent national emergency declaration: “Trump is threatening to declare a “national emergency” to sidestep Congress and build the border wall. Where is the emergency declaration for the people of Flint, Michigan who still don't have clean water after for years?” The recent “drama” surrounding Khloe Kardashian and Jordyn Woods has garnered a similar response, with one tweet of outrage receiving over one hundred thousand favorites. This raises the question of where the citizens of Flint are today and has their situation improved?
It all began with an effort to reduce costs in a chronically debt-ridden city. On April 15th, 2014, Flint changed its water source from Lake Huron and the Detroit River, which were treated by Detroit’s Water and Sewerage Department, to the Flint River. However, officials in Flint failed to treat the new water source and the pipelines to insure protection from corrosion, and instead lead seeped into the water and entered the homes of Flint. By January 2016, [former] Governor Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency due to strong evidence of water contamination in Genesee County, which Flint is a part of. Studies by Virginia Tech and the Environmental Protection Agency showed dangerous levels of lead in the water with up to 40% of homes affected.
Although many see Governor Snyder’s declaration as a watershed moment, Flint residents had recognized the issue at hand months prior. In many instances, residents recognized that there might be a link between the water and an outbreak of several major health crises, only to be assured by government officials that the Flint River was “safe.” It was only in 2016 that the crisis was recognized for what it was – a failure of the state to protect its citizens. Outrage grew from an ember to a bonfire as 12 residents died from an outbreak of Legionnaires disease linked to the crisis. In a rather abrupt fashion, the issue also became a fixture on national news outlets with national officials coning to condemn the Flint government and the handling of the crisis. On January 6th, 2016, President Obama signed an emergency declaration for Flint thereby allowing it to access nearly $5 million dollars in federal aid. Yet, as quickly as Flint became a subject of national concern, the city and its residents have faded away from the minds of the people and the news. So where is Flint today, over three years after the initial state of emergency was called?
Although, the Flint water system was re-connected to the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department on October 16, 2015, controversies around the safety of Flint’s water continue. Despite reassurance from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) in January of 2018 that Flint’s water quality was back to meeting standards, 4% of water tested from Flint schools had elevated lead levels in April of that same year, some over six times the national limit. In January of 2019, Representative Dan Kildee (D-MI), who is from Flint, stated that he did not believe Flint water was safe enough to drink. This sentiment is widely shared in Flint as many are, rightfully, suspect of the government’s findings given the previous controversies and pending lawsuits. As Klidee states “[Residents of Flint] were told the water was safe once before when it really wasn't." Plans to entirely replace the lead pipes are scheduled to be completed by summer of this year.
The failure of officials to properly treat the water, along with accusations of government corruption and coverups have led to a significant amount of legal ramifications. As of late February, there are 79 civil cases and 8 active criminal cases as a result of the water crisis. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nesseland Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud will handle the civil cases and criminal cases, respectively. Several individuals, including employees at the MDEQ, have taken plea deals in criminal cases, some under the agreement to testify in other upcoming prosecutions.
However, regardless of when the water becomes safe to drink or what the court ultimately rules, the effects of the lead poisoning will linger in Flint for years to come. Twelve people died as a result of the water contamination. Thousands of children in Flint were exposed to lead in the water that will likely affect their health for the rest of their lives. At low levels, lead affects a child’s intelligence, growth and behavior. At high levels, lead exposure has been linked to “learning disabilities, problems with attention and fine motor coordination, and even violent behavior.” This the future for thousands of children in Flint, Michigan. As the long-term ramifications of the water crisis continue to unfold, the need to keep Flint in mind is more important than ever. Flint represents the failings of modern-day America and the government’s responsibility for its citizens. Flint should serve as a lesson for the rest and should not be forgotten when a celebrity scandal occurs.