Understanding the Flint Michigan Water Crisis

By: Timothy Goldsmith, Staff Reporter

Flint, a small city in the state of Michigan, has had a major problem with its water dating as far back as 2010.

According to the Detroit Free Press chronology of the Flint water crisis, in 2010 the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA) was incorporated to make a pipeline from Lake Huron to Flint and other counties. However, this project cost approximately $270 million, which Flint did not have.

In 2013, the State Government decided to discuss alternate routes to bring water to the city. After several arguments among the Detroit and Water Sewage Department (DWSD) and the city and state governments, Flint ended up raising the money for the project, which the contract for the project was signed on April 16. This lead to the DWSD terminating their water contract with Flint, forcing Flint to find an alternative water route by December of 2013. The city switched to the Flint River as a water source on April 25, 2014, which was said to meet the safe drinking water guidelines. However, the city overlooked lead on the list of acceptable drinking water guidelines  which the Safe Drinking Water Act outlined.

Due to this oversight, the citizens of Flint complained to the city government about the brown color of the water, the rashes they were getting from it, and the bacteria the water might contain. On August 15, 2014, the city went into an alert that lasted five days. The alert made it mandatory for the citizens to boil their water because of reports of e-coli bacteria in the water. The alerts went on and off until September 9, 2014.

From January 2 through January 12, 2015, Flint gave out numerous warnings to their citizens for a high level of a cleaning byproduct (TTHMs), which could cause liver and kidney failure if consumed for too long. Eventually, the University of Michigan’s Flint campus detected that their water fountains, along with many other water sources at the university, had lead in them. With this finding, the DWSD offered to reconnect their pipelines to give the citizens clean water; however, Flint’s city council declined the offer.

From late January through late February of 2015, the state government gave Flint $2 million to help aid with the water supply issue. The water in their houses were tested for lead by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), who called the results “alarming.”

From March 12 through March 26, the EPA collected $50,000, from donations and the State government, to buy chemicals to clean the water of iron and lead. The EPA also called the city and claimed that the lead was a leak from a lead service line. However, the Genesee County Health Department noticed a spike of Legionnaires’ disease which may have been connected to the lead in the Flint water supply.

On June 24, 2015, the EPA claimed that the situation was a major concern, for the lead and iron in the water and the lack of corrosion control could cause a major problem with the water and public health.

The city then asked the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on July 1 about the lead problem, but the HHS claimed that the high white blood level of citizens were normal for the season, and that the lead was not a widespread problem but was only in a few houses in the city.

Between August 23 and September 24, 2015,  the Virginia Tech University (VTU) began to study the Flint water crisis, lead levels, and water qualities. VTU said that the  the river water leaked lead into the water supply. VTU and the Hurley Medical Center in Flint conducted tests on children’s blood, which they found to contain high levels of lead. The findings led the city to give an advisory, which said the citizens of Flint should only use cold water for drinking and cooking.

On October 1, 2015, the HHS confirmed the Hurley Medical Center’s findings and tells the city not to drink any of the water and buy bottled water for drinking and cooking. On October 2, the city said that the water was safe to drink, but the plumbing and pipes in the houses were causing the lead to go into the water. Eventually, the DWSD offered Flint to switch their water supply to the DWSD’s supply due to the lead. and the city council accepted their offer and on October 16th the city reconnected to the DWSD.

On December 29, 2015, a task force created by the EPA to find out what happened to the water supply leads to an investigation and uncovers that the DEQ (the project managers to the pipeline swich) was responsible for the contamination. Due to these findings, half of the DEQ’s administrators resigned.

On January 7, 2016, the Governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, declared state of emergency and advised citizens in the Flint area to use filters and bottled water until the pipeline was reconnected or the state says it is safe to drink. The National Guard was also put into all five police stations to distribute water bottles and filters for citizens.

The city had nine confirmed deaths due to Legionnaires’ disease and 87 cases of the disease by January 13. A day later President Obama signed an Emergency Declaration, declaring a major disaster in Flint; however, he declined that it was a natural cause. Soon thereafter, documentary filmmaker Michael Moore claimed that government leaders intentionally poisoned the people of Flint.

According to the New York Times July 29, 2016 piece “6 More State Workers Charged in Flint Water Crisis” by Amy Haimierl and Abby Goodnough, nine Michigan State Employees were charged for indirectly causing the Flint Water Crisis by concealing information about the lead in the water. The Times also said that the water was still not safe to drink by July and the state of Emergency was still going on.

Meanwhile, according to Julie Bosman’s October 8, 2016 New York Times piece, “After Water Fiasco, Trust of Officials Is in Short Supply in Flint”:

“The houses had lead pipes and the federal government gave money to Flint to replace the lead pipes of houses for new copper pipes; however, even if the government was giving the house owners new pipes the citizens do not trust the government officials because of this six year problem and many cover ups.”

Finally, Jacqueline Gulledge, in the January 31, 2017 CNN piece “Flint Water Crisis Leaves Long-term Impact on Children’s Health,” reports that in Flint several children of the age of five have stunted development because of the lead in the water. Two children, both five, are twenty pounds underweight and mentally impaired, among other problems. The children developed speech problems, and are unable to say their colors, or ABCs. The two children also have memory loss which is unusual for their age and several other problems.  

The Flint Water Crisis has been going on for approximately seven years and has caused nothing but disaster for the people of Flint, Michigan.