In an extremely unsettling report by Reuters it seems that Michigan officials were actually aware of a serious problem with the water supply in the city of Flint but took measures to block an investigation into an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is said to be undertaking a full review of the way the water crisis was handled, which led to contaminated drinking water seriously poisoning 87 people – 10 of whom died.
The responses from the state and federal government have provoked a great deal of criticism over the past few months and it seems that more could have been done to prevent this crisis.
The Flint water crisis
The city of Flint has seen a lot of publicity over the past year or so, starting back in April 2014 when a state-appointed official made the decision to switch the city’s water supply over, according to Fortune. Flint used to get most of its water from the nearby city of Detroit, which not only supplied the water but also took responsibility for controlling chemicals in the water supply.
The switch seemed logical – stop using water from Detroit and start using the water available in the Flint River, saving the city money. According to Vox, the city of Flint is bankrupt and, along with the rest of Michigan, is actively trying to save as much money as possible.
However, without Detroit’s corrosion-preventing treatment, the water from the river corroded the city’s lead pipes, leaching poisonous metals into the water supply and exposing as many as 8,000 children to elements that have lifelong effects on their nervous systems. According to Curt Guyette, an investigative journalist, some of the water samples tested so high for lead that they were “more than twice the amount at which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies water as hazardous waste.”
As if this wasn’t bad enough, the impoverished residents of Flint were consuming the water and complaining loudly to every official within earshot that there was something wrong with it. The water had changed color, had a smell to it and was clearly not right. However, they were reassured time and time again that things were fine.
Was there a cover-up?
In a report by Fox2Now.com, it seems that Jim Henry, Genesee County Environmental Health Supervisor, is accusing the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality of deliberately blocking the attempts of his office to involve the national health authorities – such as the Centers for Disease Control.
Henry stated, “You could see that it was an intentional, deliberate method to prevent us from doing our job.” The EPA is now reviewing what could have been done differently after these accusations have come to light, and a great deal of public criticism about the way the crisis was handled has been directed at the state government.
The story of the Flint Water Crisis is a complete tragedy – lead does irreversible damage to the brains of developing children and unborn babies. Those exposed will likely suffer from low IQs and have learning difficulties and could require assistance for their entire lives. However, the fact that Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality took measures to actively downplay the discolored, smelly water makes this crisis an absolute atrocity. Negligent state officials caused residents’ deaths and destroyed thousands of children’s lives just to save money; whether those responsible for the disaster will be held accountable by government or citizens remains to be seen.
Two citizens have now set up a non-profit food and water laboratory to pick up where the EPA failed in Flint, with the goal of preventing U.S. children from being exposed to toxic chemicals in water supplies. The Flint municipal water has since been switched back over to the supply from Detroit – however, the damage has already been done and will impact the city for generations to come.
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