In April 2014, the state-appointed emergency manager of Flint, Michigan decided to change the city’s water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River in an attempt to cut the city’s budget. The river was known not to contain clean water, yet the state Department of Environmental Quality neglected to properly treat the water, which would have cost the state around $100 per day. Despite complaints from residents about the water quality, the state maintained that the water was fine until September of last year, when researchers from Virginia Tech found elevated levels of lead in Flint’s drinking water.
The more corrosive water from the river had been leeching iron and lead from the city’s old pipes for 18 months before the state acknowledged that there was any danger to the people of Flint. Lead is a neurotoxin that affects children more severely than adults, and can cause severe, irreversible damage. The levels of lead in the water has recently been found to be almost six times higher than the level that justifies “cause for concern.”
Even worse, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder did not declare a state of emergency in Flint until a week ago, meaning the 100,000 people of Flint were left without a reliable source of water for months (something they were still paying for). For some, the only option was to continue to use the poisonous water. The city is now distributing bottled water to its residents. In his State of the State address on January 19, Governor Snyder asked the state legislature to allocate $28 million in emergency funds to Flint – a sum much higher than a temporary $100 per day.
It is also important to consider why the Flint River was so polluted in the first place. The story of Flint in the second half of the 20th century and since is similar to that of Detroit. Once a large industrial city, it is now just another forgotten notch along the Midwest’s infamous Rust Belt. No doubt, the city’s industrial history had a part to play in the corrosiveness of the Flint River.