Flint, Michigan, was looking for ways to save money. The city was struggling financially, with roughly 40 percent of its citizens living in poverty, so they enacted a new plan: they would cut costs by changing water sources.
What they didn’t know was that this decision would create a national crisis, exposing the population, including as many as 8,000 children, to toxic lead levels.
The plan was overseen by an emergency manager who was supposed to save the city from bankruptcy—an unelected official who had almost complete control over the city’s finances—appointed by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder.
In 2011, Flint had spent $21 million buying drinking water from Detroit, so Flint’s first move was to switch to a countywide water treatment system that used water from Lake Huron, as Detroit did. However, the system they wanted to use was not yet built.
In the meantime, Flint had to rely on a temporary water source: its river.
In April 2014, the city began drinking treated water from Flint River. A press release from April 25 shows the government’s attempt to quell skepticism about the water quality. It reads:
“Even with a proven track record of providing perfectly good water for Flint, there still remains lingering uncertainty about the quality of the water. In an effort to dispel myths and promote the truth about the Flint River and its viability as a residential water resource, there have been numerous studies and tests conducted on its water by several independent organizations. … Michael Prysby of the Michigan DEQ Office of Drinking Water verified that ‘the quality of the water being put out meets all of our drinking water standards and Flint water is safe to drink.’
“‘It’s regular, good, pure drinking water, and it’s right in our backyard,’ said Mayor [Dayne] Walling, “this is the first step in the right direction for Flint, and we take this monumental step forward in controlling the future of our community’s most precious resource.'”
But the press release was wrong. Flint did not properly treat the water, and the state did not properly test it. Though citizens complained almost immediately about the brown, smelly water, officials downplayed these complaints for months. It took an outside investigation from Virginia Tech scientists, who tested the water and confirmed elevated lead levels in 40 percent of homes, for the state to acknowledge there was a problem.
By then it was too late.
The tragedy has been emblematic of our country’s deepest problems. “The Flint crisis became public as Americans were grappling with the aftermath of the Great Recession and paying more attention to issues of racial and economic inequality,” Libby Nelson writes in Vox. “And to many people, what’s unfolding in Flint is a powerful illustration of how politicians ignore the problems and concerns of poor African Americans — even when the politicians caused the problems in the first place.”
Now, in 2017, Flint citizens continue to pay the price for their state’s negligence. How, exactly? In the middle of June—around the time that Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced at a press conference that five officials now face manslaughter charges—a Redditor asked Flint locals to provide updates on the current status of the water crisis, as well as how their day-to-day lives have been affected.
This is what they had to say.
Residents continue to rely on bottled water.
In January 2017, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality announced that lead levels in the city’s water tested below the federal limit in a recent six-month study. Despite this official seal of approval on the quality of Flint’s water, as Mother Jones wrote, “nobody believes it.”
“Now, we still don’t drink the water,” says one Reddit user who started college in October 2014 in Flint. “I don’t live on campus, but i have a 5 minute walk. I keep water jugs in my apartment. When i run out, i drive the water jugs to school, fill them up, and drive back. Sometimes my boyfriend brings me water from home. But I never consume the water.”
“[A]pparently the water is above the federal minimum for safe drinking water but still everyone i know that lives in Flint including myself avoids it,” confirms another user. “We have brita and other brand water [filters] that claim to filter out lead but we distrust it. Thankfully people are still giving out water and i get as much as i can as frequently as i can. We go through about 4 cases a week which isnt too bad. Water bill is still high even though we cant drink the water. Its basically fine but when the water donations start slowing down most of us will eventually go back to our taps begrudgingly.”
Can you blame them?
Businesses and housing advertise having “Detroit Water.”
Because of the continued mistrust for Flint’s water safety, people who want to encourage patrons and residents to choose
“It’s interesting driving around because you’ll see apartment complexes with giant banners saying ‘WE HAVE DETROIT WATER’ in a larger font than the actual name of the apartment complex,” writes one Redditor.
“It’s sad that businesses have to advertise they have Detroit water,” comments another. “Apartments even use it as a selling point.”
“Yeah, I stopped at the Chipotle on Miller on Saturday and was surprised they had
“People are still protesting.”
On March 17, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it had awarded $100 million to Flint for drinking water infrastructure upgrades, but according to one Flint resident in the Reddit thread, this money still hasn’t come.
“Now that the [mainstream media] cameras are gone, most people feel like we’ve been merely buried in bureaucratic red tape,” the user writes. “We haven’t seen a dime of the EPA money that Obama OK’d. People are still protesting; there is a protest camp in one of the bigger parks among other things.”
Indeed, as Fast Company reported in April of this year:
“The EPA money was authorized by Obama, not current President Trump. While the initial $100 million will still make it to Flint, the EPA faces a potential budget cut of 31%, which constricts the possibility of further aid. As the situation stands currently, it will likely take three more years of navigating bureaucratic hurdles before Flint’s pipes are fixed.”
Lead poisoning has been linked to long-term damage in children.
Strangely absent in a discussion about a water crisis that would be most devastating to developing brains is the mention of complications with pregnancies and children. But, given that Reddit is primarily white and male, it’s less surprising that the issue with the most potential for profound, long-term damage—thousands of children exposed to lead, many black and poor—received little or no attention in this thread.
That doesn’t mean these stories don’t exist. At the beginning of this year, CNN reported on 5-year-old twins Garrett and Gavin who are suffering short- and long-term developmental problems as a result of exposure to Flint’s water. Their ability to speak like other kids their age and their capability to remember things like colors or their ABCs—both of which they’d known previously—have been hindered.
Some effects are visible. “Gavin’s not growing properly,” their mother, Lee-Anne Walters, told CNN. “He’s 39 pounds and almost six years old. People don’t realize that they’re twins anymore.”
“The most emotionally trying part for me with them was and still is them recognizing why there is such a difference in their height and their weight,” she said. “It clicked in their little heads, ‘Ok, we were poisoned.'”