Political Focus: The Flint water crisis

Melissa Deatsch

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What’s the issue?

In April, 2014, Michigan switched the water supply in Flint from Lake Huron water treated by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to Flint River Water treated at the Flint water treatment plant.  Immediately after the switch, residents noticed a change in the appearance, smell and taste of their water and brought their complaints to the attention of state officials.  

These concerns were dismissed and state officials assured everyone that the water was fine until research found elevated levels of lead in the drinking water in August.  In October, the city switched its water supply back to Lake Huron, but too much damage had already been done to the lead pipes that carry the water to the residents.  

According to the US Census Bureau in 2015, 40.1 percent of Flint’s population is living in poverty.  When the residents realized the extreme risk that came with exposure to their water supply they began doing everything they could to avoid it.  However, with many unable to afford the added expense of bottled water, they were forced to continue drinking the tap water.  

Why should you care?

Lead poisoning is incredibly dangerous.  According to Mayo clinic, “even small amounts of lead can cause serious health problems.”  If an adult is exposed to too much lead, it can result in symptoms such as high blood pressure, stomach pain and declines in mental functioning.  

Things get scarier when lead is exposed to children.  Slowed brain development, learning difficulties and hearing loss are some of the symptoms in children with lead poisoning that may be irreversible.  

Pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha released a report in September that showed the levels of lead in Children under five living in Flint had nearly doubled.  

What are the sides?

There is no debate the on the existence of disaster in Flint, Mich. but what is up for debate is who to blame and what to do now.  

Looking back and examining how the crisis unfolded has exposed multiple errors in judgment by the people involved.  

A class-action federal lawsuit was filed by Flint residents against Governor Snyder, the state, the city and 13 other public officials.  The suit alleges that city and state officials “deliberately deprived” residents of their 14th amendment rights.  The 14th amendment forbids states from denying any person life, liberty or property without due process. 

This lawsuit isn’t the only backlash Snyder is seeing. Many elected officials and residents are placing blame on him for the delay in action after the complaints were filed.  

Though some feel it took too long, Snyder is now taking proactive steps to clear up this disaster.  On Jan. 5, Snyder declared a state of emergency and mobilized the National Guard on Jan. 12.  

On Thursday Jan. 14, Snyder submitted a request for declaration by President Obama of a federal emergency as well as a disaster declaration.  On Saturday, the President accepted one of the requests and declared a federal emergency in Flint allowing $5 million in federal aid to help the crisis. 

$5 million is generally the limit of aid given during an emergency but the president can get more by going through Congress.  Snyder estimates they need $55 million to repair the damage in the service lines and $41 million for water distribution and testing supplies for residents.