It has been about a year since news of brown-yellow water and widespread lead poisoning in Flint, Michigan broke national news. For three weeks stories of the crisis were all over the news stream. People sent thousands of cases of bottled water to Flint. Then, just as quickly as it came, national outrage dissipated.
One year later not much has changed in Flint, Michigan. The water is still undrinkable. People are still relying on bottled water. Governor Rick Snyder is still in office. Governor Rick Snyder still has yet to be prosecuted. Residence are still suffering from high levels of lead poisoning. All the water pipes still have yet to be replaced.
The decision was made in April, 2014 to change the city’s water source from the Detroit River to the Flint River. Rick Snyder was directly implicated in the decision, which was supposed to cut water costs for the city. The corrosive Flint water caused erosion of the City’s major pipe systems and increased the lead levels in the drinking water. When residents complained of foul-smelling and discolored water, high levels of chlorine was added to improve the smell and kill off bacteria (high levels of chlorine have been associated with cancer).
Snyder and other government officials claimed that the water switch was for financial reasons. Yet the City was only saving $100.00 a month using Flint water. The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department actually offered the City a 50% reduction in prices if Flint remained with Detroit water sources. Snyder refused the plan which could have saved Flint $800 million. The switch occurred amid protests and was undemocratically decided by Governor Rick Snyder.
Snyder, who has personal stock in Nestle, made the decision for his personal benefit at the expense of the people of Flint. Nestle is the largest private owner of water sources in Michigan and the largest water bottling company in the world. Nestle pumps 200 gallons of fresh water a minute out Michigan water reserves to be sold as bottled water. In 2016 in the face of the Flint water crisis it was announced that Nestle is waiting for permits that would nearly triple its water extraction. The permits, which have already been approved by the State of Michigan, would allow Nestle access to 100 million gallons of ground water for just 200 dollars a year. The company receives 13 million in tax breaks from the state of Michigan to continue water extractions. The current demand for bottled water in Flint, Michigan has allowed Nestle to make a small fortune off the crisis. Snyder’s chief of staff Dennis Muchmore had close ties with Nestle and was very involved in the decisions to make the switch. His wife, Deb Muchmore is actually the Michigan spokesperson for Nestle company.
For two years Snyder was made aware of the growing public health crisis and made no attempt to stop it. When reports came back of hundreds of water-related illnesses and growing lead levels in children, Snyder finally issued a state of emergency in December, 2015.
The water has caused skin lesions, hair loss, chemical-induced hypertension, vision loss and depression. A rise in Legionnaires disease has been linked to the contaminated water. Severe diarrhea and dehydration has also been linked to the water. The effects of lead poisoning in children are already causing developmental defects and brain damage.
The City’s water source was quickly switched back to the Detroit River. Yet the corroded pipes still make the water unsafe to drink. Despite this fact, Flint officials continue to lie to residents about the water being safe to drink. Commercials have been running encouraging residents to drink the water. Obama even paid a visit to Flint and drank water that was claimed to be filtered Flint water to get citizens to use the water again.
But the water is clearly still poisonous. To add insult to injury, Flint residence are still paying monthly water bills for contaminated water, even though no one is actually using the water. Bottled water is used for everything and has made it extremely difficult for residence to perform everyday tasks such as cook, wash hands, and bathe. People are eating less because the water it takes to cook cuts into their water allowances. Outbreaks of bacterial diseases have been widespread because of people not being able to wash their hands properly.
On the Northside of Flint, which is mostly Black, water pipes are so corroded that they are leaking. Black families on the Northside need immediate assistance yet have been largely abandoned by city officials. Some Black families have been forced to pay enormous sums for their own pipe repairs, while some are still waiting for major pipeline replacements to be done. The Water Department has forced these residence to pay water utility bills. For many residence, the contaminated water costs more that rent.
Flint residence have had to walk long distances to get water allowances. Elderly and differently-abled people who are unable to make the trip have to have their water allowances delivered to them. The State of Michigan has repeatedly refused to deliver water to residence because of the high cost they claim will be involved. A federal court judge ordered Michigan to provide water delivery to residence, yet nothing has been done.