The Flint Water Crisis (2014- ) is where Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan knowingly poisoned children, causing permanent brain damage in up to 8,000, two-thirds of them Black. The US government’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) knew the water was unsafe – and did nothing.
Flint, a city 100 km north-west of Detroit, is the birthplace of General Motors. In the 1980s, GM started shutting down its factories there, throwing 75,000 people out of work. Flint lost 50% of its people and 75% of its tax base. Of those who remain, 40% live in poverty.
From 2003 to 2013, the state government cut nearly $55 million in revenue sharing with Flint.
By 2011, the city was broke. The governor, Rick Snyder, a White, Tea Party Republican, took over Flint, a Black-majority city, the tenth most liberal city in the nation (think Michael Moore, who is from Flint). Snyder put one of his cronies in charge, an “emergency manager”.
An emergency manager is not elected. He answers only to the governor. He has the power to override the democratically elected city government, its laws and contracts (except with banks). He can do pretty much anything except miss a bond payment.
From 2013 to 2014, 52% of Blacks in Michigan lived under Snyder’s emergency managers. Only 2% of Whites did.
In April 2014, to save $5 million a year, the emergency manager changed the city’s water from Detroit to the polluted Flint River. And, apparently to save $100 a day, he broke US law by not treating the water with phosphates.
Right away people noticed a difference:
- colours: brown, orange, yellow, blue.
- smells: like a sewer, an old pond, chlorine.
In private, the government dismissed this as a lack of “aesthetic values”. In public, it said the water was safe, aside from the occasional E. coli outbreak.
Those colours came from the water eating away at the pipes because it was not being treated with phosphates. That was bad news: many of those pipes were made of lead or lead parts. Lead poisoning can cause permanent brain damage in small children, leading to lower IQs and behavioural problems, like crime later in life.
By February 2015, at the latest, the state government knew there was high levels of lead in the water. It did nothing. Officials told the people of Flint to “relax”.
They did not relax.
In August, activists got scientists from Virginia Tech to thoroughly test the water. It had way more lead than the (very loose) US government limit. Some of it qualified as toxic waste. Officials dismissed Virginia Tech’s findings.
In September, Dr Mona Hanna-Attisha went back through hospital records and found that lead levels in children’s blood had doubled since 2013.
The state discounted the doctor’s findings as “data”. But she stood her ground.
In October, the state at last admitted what it had long known. It changed the city back to Detroit water. But the damage had already been done. The pipes will cost some $1.5 billion to make safe again. The children no amount of money will ever make right.
Thanks to Mary Burrell for suggesting this post.
– Abagond, 2016.
- White paternalism
- Republican bubble
- Tamir Rice
- The DOJ report on the Ferguson police
- Michael Moore