A state of emergency exists for the city of Flint, Michigan because for nearly two years, people have been drinking, bathing in, washing their clothes and cooking with a water supply that is polluted by lead. And, their government is 100% to blame. How is it that a city of roughly 100,000 people ended up with an undrinkable water supply? In short, the financial crash of 2008 caused an already weakened Flint to nearly collapse, resulting the Michigan state government taking over. In an effort to save money, the Michigan Governor and his staff chose to temporarily move the main water supply for Flint from Lake Huron to the Flint River. They knew that the river was polluted and corrosive, requiring the water to be treated daily with an anti-corrosive agent to be used for human consumption. The cost would be roughly $100 per day. Officials chose not treat the river water, and made the switch without further testing.
The corrosive nature of the river water started to break down many of the old lead pipes that supplied the water in Flint. As the pipes broke down, they leached the lead directly into the water supply. People noticed a difference in the taste, smell, and look of the water and complained. Their government told them everything was okay and even went as far as to drink the water on live television to calm fears of local residents. Polluted water is particularly bad, because humans must have a clean and reliable water source to survive. Water makes up 60% of our bodies, which is why average person drinks roughly a half gallon of water a day.
This went on for nearly two years. Finally, two things happened that began to challenge the claims that Flint’s water was safe. First, local pediatricians began seeing rashes and other signs of lead poisoning in children and started sounding alarms when lead levels in children were two or three times higher than they should be. Also, researchers from Virginia Tech University released a study confirming toxic levels of lead in Flint’s water supply.
Lead exposure is particularly bad for children because lead is a mineral. As our bodies grow, they use minerals as building blocks. In children, lead is mistaken for a healthy building block and is used to help build tissue, including brain tissue. Its toxic nature can cause multiple lifelong problems. According to the Mayo Clinic, children under 6 are especially vulnerable. Lead poisoning can cause issues with mental and physical development. Developmental delay, difficulty learning, weight loss, fatigue, and hearing loss are common.
In Flint, the damaged water pipes will likely continue to leach lead into the city’s water supply for years. Thousands of children are going to need to be monitored and treated for lead poisoning. Several lawsuits have been filed and many more are likely to come. While lawsuits can’t fix everything, they can provide compensation to the families who have been, and will be harmed for years to come. Legal action can help pay for medical expenses, monitoring and provide services to the families whose children have, literally, been harmed. The lawsuits can also uncover, in detail, how and why their government created such an incredibly preventable tragedy, so that it never happens again.