A Brief Overview of the Crisis:
Flint Michigan’s water system is toxic. Experts consider the toxicity levels to be greater than twice the measurement of toxic waste standards. Detroit provided Flint with water. This began in the 1960s when Flint attempted to connect to Lake Huron, on its own. Millions of dollars were allocated to that project which failed due to a profiteering scandal. Detroit rescued Flint and provided 40 years of reliable service, at a cost.
In 2011, Governor Rick Snyder introduced an emergency management plan (Public Act 4) to expand the state’s authority in helping financially troubled cities in the state of Michigan. The act allowed Governor Snyder to appoint emergency managers over cities (among other struggling entities). This austerity act was met with mixed reactions.
Flint Michigan was in financial trouble and was assigned it’s third emergency manger in 2013. The turn-over rate of these managers was high. Since 2011, three managers came and went. It was during Darnel’s tenure that the switch from Detroit to the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA) was made.
The KWA drew water from the Flint River. The Flint River has been a source of water for decades for temporary backup situations. The water needed to be treated correctly so that salinity levels, toxins and dangerous bacteria would be removed.
Eventhough a number of agencies, ranging from the city to state to federal government levels were involved in overseeing the water change, the water was not treated correctly and the lead pipes were damaged allowing the lead, from the pipes, to leech into the water system.
General Motors stopped using the water as it was corroding new car parts. A number of residents, doctors and officials, in Flint quickly recognized the danger within a month of the water service change. These advocates turned to Virginia Technological University to test the water. VA Tech found levels of lead in many places. In some cases, the water was double what is considered to be extremely toxic. Unfortunately, those voices were muted and the toxins flowed through the water system of Flint.
As of the date of this writing, there is no accurate number given regarding the number of people who have been poisoned by the lead. Estimates range from as low as 10s of thousands of people being affected to over 100,000 people. Cases of people dying and suffering from Legionnaire’s disease has increased exponentially. While not confirmed, it is believed that the Legionella bacteria was also involved in the poisoning of Flint.
As of the date of this post, herculean and generous philanthropic gifts are being made to supply fresh water through bottles, tanks and filters. Local plumbers have donated their time to install water filters in homes throughout the city.
Officials still maintain that using the water for bathing and showering is safe. However, these are the same officials who did not respond for two years to multiple warnings.
The People and Government agencies involved:
- President Obama allocated $80 million (January 20) to help Flint.
- The US Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 (includes the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota) Susan Hedman, head of Region 5, resigned, effective February 1.
- Rick Snyder, the Governor of Michigan, has become the main focus of the media and social media. Even though his administration denied, for a period of two years that there was a problem, he continues to stay involved.
- Flint Mayor, Karen Weaver met with President Obama, in Washington D.C. As a result of the meeting, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is taking the lead in emergency efforts.
- Flint City Council decided to join the Karegnondi Water Authority in 2013.
- Emergency Manager, appointed by Governor Snyder, Darnel Early. Congress issued a subpoena for Darnel to appear and testify before a Congressional Committee. Darnel is no stranger to the natural resources of Saginaw and Flint. He has intimate knowledge of the workings of the Flint water system and its connection to the Detroit Water and Sewerage He was appointed in 2005 by Governor Granholm to head the Michigan Natural Resources Commission. Governor Snyder appointed Darnel Early as Emergency Manager. It is under Darnel’s tenure that the switch was made from the Detroit pipeline.
Legal fallout (as of this writing).
Two Class-action lawsuits have been filed.
- First Lawsuit: Class action to exempt Flint users to be exempt from past or future bills for water use. – filed Genesee District Court
- Second Lawsuit: Hold the state of Michigan financially liable for a man-made catastrophe