An Overview of the Flint Water Crisis

By Meredith Murray, FLOW intern

What are regulatory agencies doing to fix the problem?

Currently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is conducting an investigation over the steps taken to address Flint’s drinking water issues following State Representative Dan Kildee (D-Flint) and State Minority Leader Jim Ananich’s (D-Flint) written requests. Along with the EPA investigation, Michigan legislators are pushing for a review of the controversy over the EPA’s oversight on Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ).

State Representatives Sheldon Neeley (D-Flint) and Phil Phelps (D-Flushing) assert that MDEQ withheld information on the water quality from the Flint River in order to meet federal drinking water quality standards. The legislators are also requesting for the dismissal of Dan Wyant as the Director of the MDEQ.

What went wrong?

Flint’s drinking water crisis began in April of 2014 when the city of Flint decided to stop receiving their drinking water from the Detroit water supply. The plan was to switch over to a new water supplier (Karegnandi Water Authority). The high water rates imposed on Flint residents and budget cuts in the Flint financial management plan were the reasons behind the switch in suppliers.

But there was a problem: Karegnandi will not be done constructing their new water lines to draw water from Lake Huron until sometime in 2016. In the meantime, Flint officials decided to temporarily draw their drinking water from the Flint River. However, as soon as the switch was made from the Detroit water supply to the Flint River, Flint residents complained about the odor and coloration of their drinking water.

Resident complaints grew, and ‘boiling advisories’ were soon issued to kill off harmful bacteria  in the water due to the aging water lines. Water tests soon revealed high levels of a chlorination byproduct linked to cancer and other associated health problems.

Even with the drinking water advisory notices, residents were told by city officials that the water was safe to drink.

In September of 2015 – over a year after extracting water from the Flint River – a group of researchers from Virginia Tech tested hundreds of water samples and found 40% of the samples to contain high levels of lead. Due to the corrosive nature of the Flint River water, lead from the aging pipes was leaching into the City’s drinking water, and blood tests of Flint children showed elevated lead levels.

These results clearly indicated that Flint had to stop receiving their drinking water from the Flint River, and reconnect to the Detroit water supply. The switch was made October 16, 2015 to the Detroit water supply with the help of $9.35 million authorized by Governor Rick Snyder.

Is the problem fixed?

The problem to Flint’s water crisis is not resolved. Even after three weeks with the city of Flint reconnected to the Detroit water supply, advisories are being given to hold off on drinking the tap water unless there is an installed water filter. Leaching of lead into the drinking water from old pipes is still possible because the protective layer to prevent corrosion in the pipes is worn away.

Flint residents are also facing the issue of water shutoffs. Many Flint residents stopped paying their water bills once they found out their water was not drinkable. But after Flint reconnected with the Detroit water supply, the city started notifying those residents that they will issue shut offs if bills are not paid.

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3 comments on “An Overview of the Flint Water Crisis

  1. Karen Bednarek on

    We, in Muskegon, in solidarity with the people poisoned in Flint and in support of protecting our water and Great Lakes, have written a resolution regarding the outrage in Flint.
    Would FLOW be willing to sign on?
    Whereas the people of Flint, in order to save money, were forced to change their source of drinking water from the Detroit Water Supply to the Flint River by the Emergency Manager, hired by the Governor of the State of Michigan;

    Whereas the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) failed in its responsibility to protect the environment, public health and safety of the citizens of Flint;

    Whereas the DEQ failed to follow federally mandated procedures to guarantee the new water source from the Flint River did not violate the corrosive pipe federal statute;

    Whereas the citizens of Flint, including children, babies and pregnant mothers, were, as a result of the above failures, subjected to lead in the water;

    Whereas Flint doctors discovered elevated lead levels in the children of Flint;

    Whereas, as a result, children, babies and the unborn, can develop lead poisoning which leads to costly life-long learning and behavior problems;

    Whereas Flint residents, since being switched to the Flint River for their household water, reported discolored and foul-smelling water, in addition to rashes and hair falling out;

    Whereas the residents of Flint formally complained to a variety of agencies and were repeatedly assured that the water was safe;

    Whereas this step was taken to save $5 million but will now cost the state $12 million to reconnect to the Detroit River supply,

    And whereas records were falsified to assure Flint residents that the water was safe for drinking;

    Therefore be it resolved that a complete investigation be launched to determine the causes of the increased lead level in the Flint water supply and why the citizens were not warned when it became known that the lead levels were increased and that the full investigation results be reported to the public.

    Be it further resolved that the DEQ staff responsible for the situation, including the Director, be severed from all state employment and benefits, and that they, in addition to the Emergency Manager and the governor, be subject to applicable criminal charges.

    Be it further resolved that all Flint residents, and the unborn, who were exposed to the increased lead levels in the water, be tracked as long as medically necessary, and fully compensated for all health, education and other expenses due to this water contamination.

  2. mark on

    I find it really outrageous that the people of flint have to suffer through this crap ! But when we converted to digital tv our government handed out $40 digital tv converter box coupons at 2 per household for the first 22 million people. So do quick math that’s 88 million shelled out so people can watch TV.

    But when people really need them our government is failing in every way! A FM-3500B PUR Advanced Water Faucet Filtration System which removes 97 to 99% of lead at a cost of $38.99 . Can you tell me why our government isn’t handing out coupons to the people of Flint so the can at least have drinking water from there taps ! Less then 100,000 people in flint compared to the first 22 million convert boxes !!!

    Our government had a chance to step up for their own people of the U.S., but choose to do nothing once again. What a surprise !


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