“Government failed you — federal, state and local leaders — by breaking the trust you place in us,” Michigan Governor Rick Snyder conceded in his State of the State address last week after months of ignoring Flint residents’ complaints about contaminated water. “I’m sorry, and I will fix it.”
The Governor’s apology, and the $28 million emergency fund subsequently granted to the city of Flint by the Michigan House of Representatives may seem like adequate reparations, but to many residents of the poor, mostly black community of Flint, the government response is much too little too late.
In early 2014, the city of Flint switched its water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River, regarded by many locals as a contaminated waste dump, in order to cut costs. The switch was estimated to save $1 to $2 million per year, a fraction of the costs already spent by the city and state to repair the damage inflicted on residents over the last year.
Soon after the water supply switch, Flint residents started complaining about the water’s color and odor, as well as the rash-like symptoms that many developed. Outraged locals carried “jugs of brownish water” to city events in protest.
The GM plant located in Flint stopped using tap water when it was found to corrode factory parts, and a local hospital switched to bottled water after complaints that Flint River water caused damage to their instruments.
In addition to prior bacterial and chemical contaminations, the Flint water supply was found to contain enough lead to show up in residents’ blood tests. Even minuscule amounts of lead in the bloodstream can cause development problems in children.
For months, Flint residents’ protests fell on deaf ears. In a private email released to the public last week, one of Governor Snyder’s top aides described those protesting in Flint as an “anti-everything group.”
By the time Governor Snyder made his public apology to the city of Flint, the water crisis had already become a national news story. It was discussed in the Democratic presidential debate last week, and both the Environmental Protection Agency and President Obama condemned the state government’s delayed response.
“The notion that immediately families were not notified, things were not shut down — that shouldn’t happen anywhere,” said Obama to CBS News.
It took national news coverage to shame Governor Snyder and the Michigan House to begin to address the problems in Flint. Both the decision to switch water sources in order to save money, and the city and state government’s unwillingness to help the residents for months reflect a lack of concern for the underprivileged city.
“The message is clear to us,” said Flint resident Dan Reyes, “Flint is a predominantly minority, poor community. In Flint, you don’t matter to Snyder’s brand of politician.”
There are already 3 class action lawsuits filed against the state for issuing “false assurances” that the city’s lead-contaminated water supply was safe to drink. It is our hope that every Flint resident that suffered at the hands of an apathetic state government is fully compensated for their damages.
Sources: Bosman, Julie, Monica Davie and Mitch Smith, “As Water Problems Grew, Officials Belittled Complaints From Flint,” The New York Times, 20 January 2016.
Bosman, Julie and Mitch Smith, “Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan Apologizes in Flint Water Crisis,” The New York Times, 19 January 2016.
Shapiro, Emily, “Flint Residents Were Given ‘False Assurances’ Water Was Safe, Lawsuits Allege,” ABC News, 19 January 2016.