Flint, Michigan, a city that has had its own share of problems ranging from multiple financial disasters to depopulation and urban decay, has become a hot topic for presidential candidates and environmentalists alike.
The reason: in an effort to save money, the bankrupt city stopped buying adequate drinking water from Detroit and instead attempt-ed to use treated water from the Flint River beginning in April of 2014. The water from this river wasn’t properly treated by the city and the state neglected to test it. As a result, both parties failed to notice that lead from the city’s pipes was leaching into the water.
This situation is truly a tragedy, and the effects of lead on the health of a child’s developing brain and nervous system are disastrous. What makes the tragedy of the Flint water crisis a scandal is the fact that this obvious contamination of drinking water went completely ignored for months.
Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality received multi-ple complaints from the residents of Flint regarding discolored, un-drinkable water. Yet they did nothing to resolve the problem. Even after the city insisted there was something wrong, the state refused to acknowledge that there were any issues. Although multiple pediatricians reported an increase in lead found in children’s blood, it took a team of scientists from Virginia Tech testing for and discovering elevated levels of lead for the state to finally acknowledge the problem: the drinking water was poisonous. Some of the water tested had reached levels that would classify it as hazardous waste.
There are numerous individuals responsible for this health hazard. There’s the emergency manager Edward Kurtz who made the decision to use the river’s water as a drinking supply, the Department of Environmental Quality which failed to follow federal procedure, and the state treasurer who backed the plan to switch to the river. Tracking down who did what is important in making sure that the people of Flint get justice, but what the state of Michigan, and, more importantly, the entire nation must examine is why the state found it acceptable to allow this to happen.
Running down the list of “what ifs” creates questions that are difficult to answer: What if the city had received more state funding instead of switching water supplies? What if the Department of Environmental Quality had done its job? What if Edward Kurtz had acknowledged the issue and admitted his mistake? What if the majority of the population affected wasn’t predominantly black and disproportionally poor?
These questions are difficult to answer, but it is true that in the United States communities of minorities have long been used as dumping grounds for polluters. Hillary Clinton stated during a debate that the situation would have been handled differently if it had taken place in a “white suburb outside of Detroit”, and she may be correct.