Back in 2014, the city of Flint, Michigan announced that a new pipeline would be built to deliver water from Lake Huron to Flint to save money. While it was under construction, residents of the city used the Flint River as a water source, only to realize soon after that the water started to look, smell and taste funny. Tests in 2015 by the EPA and Virginia Tech indicated dangerous levels of lead in the water leading to a lawsuit charging that Michigan wasn’t treating the water according to federal policies. And not only was the Flint River water not being treated accordingly, but about half of the service lines to homes in Flint were made of lead; since the water was not properly treated, lead began coming into the water supply. This was the status quo for nearly two years.
The highest lead level recorded in Flint was 13,000 parts per billion (ppb) in 2015. This was more than 866 times the federal guideline of 15 ppb – the upper allowable level, above which immediate remediation is required.
This crisis led to criminal charges for state and city officials, thousands of children with dangerous levels of lead in their bloodstreams, and the disintegration of trust between residents and their government.
Now, four years later, my question is has anything changed?
To date, an estimated 12,000 children have been exposed to excessive lead in Flint. As lead causes irreversible damage to the developing brain, it is extremely harmful to young children. Symptoms include developmental delays, dyslexia and behavioral problems; and in a community like Flint, where urban poverty is prevalent, these symptoms just add to the multiple challenges residents already face. In a recent report, the portion of Flint’s third-graders who tested as proficient in reading at grade level fell from 41.8% in 2013 to 10.7% in 2017.
However, there has been progress. Pipes from main lines to about 6200 homes have been replaced (of course, there are still more than 12,000 homes to go), water lead levels have improved considerably, and Michigan Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, as well as Representative Daniel Kildee, were able to secure more than $100 million in federal assistance to replace the contaminated pipes.
Up until last week, Michigan provided free bottled water to those who didn’t trust their tap water, but that program ended April 6, with the government citing the reason being the now acceptable level of lead in Flint.
But of course, even while the lead levels are now deemed safe, there is still much to do. Two top priority concerns that still remain are:
- Immediate enforcement of the mandate to get all corroded pipes replaced from the main lines into the homes
- State subsidies to help poor families pay for water (this was not granted until 2016 and then revoked in 2017)
To learn more about the timeline of the Flint Water Crisis, refer to this visual timeline provided by Buckfire Law Firm: