Severe water quality problems in Flint Michigan have caught the eye of consumer advocates and activists around the country. In 2014, the city disconnected the city from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department and provided residents with water from the Flint River because it was cheaper.
Residents noticed changes in the color, taste, and smell coming out of their taps right away. Testing showed high levels of bacteria, which forced city administrators to issue boil advisories, and to increase the amount of chlorine put into the water. That meant the water also contained high levels of “potentially carcinogenic disinfectant byproducts,” according to Food & Water Watch. Because this water was more corrosive, lead leached into Flint’s drinking water. And now many residents have lead poisoning.
Lead is not the only metal in the water. High levels of copper have also been found, which can cause serious conditions such as osteoarthritis and bone spurs. Exposure to lead can cause permanent drops in IQ and cause mental retardation, brain damage, infertility, anemia, and kidney damage. These effects are especially severe in children and newborn babies. All children living in Flint under the age of six should be tested for lead poisoning.
But Governor Rick Snyder ignored these problems for months, and told residents that the water was safe to drink. State officials and city administrators in Flint switched the system back to the Detroit water supply in October 2015, but the damage was done. The city must now replace thousands of water pipes made from lead.
In addition, there has been a spike in the number of Legionnaires’ Disease cases in the city from June 2014 to November 2015. At least 87 people have been sickened with this illness, and ten of those people died. The baseline number of Legionnaries’ Disease cases in the city is about a dozen every year.
Experts think that the water from the Flint River and the lack of corrosion control, along with big water systems in older buildings, may have created the situation that caused the Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak. In October 2015, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality said it had failed to put safeguards in place to stop corrosion of water pipes.
Lynna Kaucheck, a Food & Water Watch organizer said, “this is the very definition of a man made, intentional, public health crisis. It’s hard to believe that in 2016, people in the United States have to contend with poisoned drinking water, but that’s the sad situation that many Flint residents are contending with. Flint’s water pipes are permanently damaged, and some residents continue to receive water that is undrinkable, due to lead contamination.” A federal investigation is now under way.
The city needs $1.5 billion to fix the system, and money from the state will not begin to cover the cost. The Obama administration is giving money to the city. Food & Water Watch is asking the administration to declare a public health emergency in Flint so federal resources will be available. And Flint’s water is still unsafe to drink.