State of Emergency Declared in Flint, MI Due to Toxic Levels of Lead in Water Supply


In Flint, Michigan, the number of children with “above-average” lead in their blood has doubled in the last year. The change is tied to the city swapping its water source from Detroit’s financially troubled water system to the Flint River. In Detroit, in the meantime, 9,200 Detroit residents are facing water shutoffs, escalating the city’s already profound water crisis. Michigan, what is going on?!

On Monday, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver declared a state of emergency, according to the Washington Post, calling the situation a “Manmade disaster.” Weaver, who came in after her predecessor was ousted over his mishandling of the local water problems, said she’s requesting federal financial support to tackle the “irreversible effects of lead exposure on the city’s children.”

In April 2014, when Flint changed its water supply source, residents immediately complained about cloudy, foul-smelling water. Initially, the city assured folks that the water was safe—but then the state issued a notice telling Flint locals that the water was indeed contaminated and could lead to cancer, among other diseases.

In response to protests, and instead of reconnecting to Detroit’s pricey water system, Flint officials suggested that residents boil away the water’s impurities and handed out water filters. The situation was ostensibly temporary—the supply was only supposed to come from the Flint River from 2014 to 2016—and on October 8, 2015, Governor Rick Snyder switched the water supply from Flint back to Detroit, announcing a $12 million plan along with it. But by then, it was already too late.

In November, parents of lead-infected children filed a class-action federal lawsuit against Gov. Snyder, the state of Michigan, the city of Flint and 13 additional public officials for damages from the lead-poisoned water. In the suit, Flint residents claim that the city and state authorities knew the danger of the “highly toxic” water but “‘deliberately deprived’ them of their 14th Amendment rights by replacing formerly safe drinking water.” From the Post:

“For more than 18 months, state and local government officials ignored irrefutable evidence that the water pumped from the Flint River exposed [residents] to extreme toxicity,” the complaint reads. “The deliberately false denials about the safety of the Flint River water was as deadly as it was arrogant.”

Erin Brockovich, anyone?

Now, numerous Flint locals are ill with symptoms like skin lesions and hair loss to chemical-induced hypertension, vision loss and depression. One woman named LeeAnn Walters, a mother of 4-year-old twins, said she tried to keep her boys from being poisoned, but one child was diagnosed with severe levels of lead in his blood anyway. In addition, her whole family has developed rashes and her son can’t seem to gain weight anymore.

“I was hysterical,” Walters told the Free Press. “I cried when they gave me my first lead report.”

Then, back in Detroit, the Detroit News brings us the story of a 66 year-old woman named Fayette Coleman who has been collecting rainwater to bathe, flush her toilet and “get herself together” in the morning for the last two years. In a heartbreaking and infuriating interview, Coleman, who was raised gathering water from wells as a child, says she was swindled by Detroit’s flailing water problems. She says she went from paying around $80 a month to somehow owing the water company over $7,000 in a matter of months. She’s not the only one.

Coleman’s home is one of 4,000 in the Motor City that haven’t regained their water supply since massive shutoffs in 2014. One-third of Detroit’s residents are two months overdue on their water bills—that’s 68,000 people out of 200,000.

Gary Brown, the director of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, says at least 39,000 folks are on a payment plan, and that the city’s got about $1 million available for assistance. Another assistance program from the Great Lakes Water Authority is on the way in 2016: it’s expected to raise $4.5 million initially, which will only help one-tenth of the city’s total population who are underwater only in their bills.

That means for people like Coleman, simple things like washing her clothes will probably remain a luxury.

“One thing I really miss is washing my clothes,” said Coleman, a former factory worker with multiple health problems who lives on a Social Security disability check of $954 per month. “Once every couple of months, when I’m able to get some money, I can go to the laundromat.”

America: the greatest country in the world.

Contact the author at [email protected].

Pictured: Flint residents receive free water being distributed at the Lincoln Park United Methodist Church, image via AP.

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