What Is the Flint Water Crisis?

Just one of many disconcerting images you'll find if you search up images of the Flint Water Crisis. Image via http://www.dogonews.com/2016/1/20/the-water-crisis-in-flint-michigan.
Just one of many disconcerting images you’ll find if you search up images of the Flint Water Crisis./ Image via Dogonnews.com

It would really only take a few words to sum up the Flint Water Crisis: an atrocity that could have and should have been avoided in this country. Unfortunately, that same description applies to countless incidents in the United States, both historical and current, so a bit more elaboration is necessary.

Christened “one of the biggest public health crises of recent times,” the Flint crisis has just recently garnered widespread attention in the media, even though it began in April 2014. By the time it came to the attention of the White House and the American public, there were already 6,000 to 12,000 children affected and possibly susceptible to long-term neurological damage due to severe lead poisoning and contamination of tap water in the city of Flint, Michigan. There were also ten fatalities due to Legionnaire’s disease and 87 total cases reported in the county in which Flint is located — which are incredibly elevated numbers compared to years past and are likely linked to the contamination of Flint’s tap water.

Why did something like this happen, and why wasn’t it stopped sooner? There must’ve been a really convincing reason, right? No. There wasn’t, and that’s why this crisis is so horrifying. In 2013, in an attempt to save money, Flint’s city officials switched their source of drinking water. Instead of continuing to purchase it from Detroit, they went to a new authority who would purportedly get their water from the same source, Lake Huron. One problem: The new water source, which officials claimed would save millions of dollars a year, would not be available until 2016.

In the meantime, the city began to use water from the Flint River. According to Michael Torrice in his article “How Lead Ended Up in Flint’s Tap Water,” the problem wasn’t necessarily the quality of the river itself; the switch “changed the chemistry of the water flowing through those pipes…. [The city] didn’t adequately control the water’s ability to corrode those pipes… [resulting in] high lead levels, rust-colored tap water, and possibly the growth of pathogenic microbes.” In a study by Virginia Tech researchers last summer, some water samples contained 900 times the safe amount of lead as determined by the EPA.

Flint’s residents began to question whether the discolored water that officials claimed was nothing to worry about was really safe, yet despite the mounting health problems people began to face and the terrible conditions of the pipes, nothing was done about it. Thousands of children may grow up facing severe health problems because of the city and state governments’ failure to protect their citizens. Ten people are dead, likely because of complications relating to this issue.

Of course, now, there’s media attention focused on this problem, and people finally have an understanding of the severity of what happened in Flint; it was even the cover story of TIME just the other week. City, county, or state officials may face manslaughter charges.

It’s great that the crisis in Flint and the people involved are finally getting the attention they deserve. Yet this issue, like so many others, is something that could have been prevented if people (anyone, really: the EPA, Governor Snyder, city and county officials who tried to cover up the issue) had just done something about it. If our society doesn’t have some serious changes pretty soon, Flint won’t be the only city where innocent people are disadvantaged by the very people who are paid to look after their well-being.

 

Susannah Sherwood
Susannah Sherwood is a biochemistry major at Seattle University with a deep love for writing, reading, music, and coffee. She dreams of a future in which she can pursue her passion for science while making time for the causes and people she cares about.

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