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The Flint Water Crisis: Lessons Learned

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Flint residents protest

Flint residents protest

Flint residents protest

Alice Yang, Guest Writer

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On April 25th 2014, the city of Flint made a cost-saving decision to switch its water source from Lake Huron to the highly polluted Flint River. This seemingly minute change resulted in a huge disaster that is now known as the Flint Water Crisis.

Less than two months into the switch, Flint residents raised complaints about the water in their homes. Later, Virginia Tech researchers found dangerously high levels of coliform bacteria, THMs, and lead in the city’s drinking water. Residents, especially children, have suffered serious health consequences from drinking this polluted water. At the end of it all, the entire fiasco is estimated to have cost over $200 million in reparations. The Flint and Michigan governments remained unresponsive to the complaints and even denounced these doctors and researchers until October 2015, when they finally changed the city’s water source back to Lake Huron.

Such a huge catastrophe begs the question: how could the Michigan and Flint authorities be oblivious to these warning signs for over a year? Well as the case often is, the government simply turned a blind eye to suffering citizens in exchange for money.

In January 2015, Detroit’s Water and Sewage Department offered to reconnect Flint to the Huron River. However, this would have cost Flint a couple million dollars, money that Emergency Manager Jerry Ambrose and Governor Rick Snyder were not willing to give up. Instead, they continued to implement the cheaper water system even though Flint residents were the ones paying the price.

Later, Virginia Tech researchers published their findings of dangerously high lead levels in the water and Flint doctors publicized high lead levels in children’s blood, but the state’s immediate reaction was to deny and discredit their results. When citizens gathered to protest their water conditions, their complaints were largely ignored.

It’s also important to note that Flint is an extremely low-income city, with a median household income of less than $20,000 and 41.6% of its residents living below the poverty line. This dearth of financial resources made it even more difficult for afflicted residents to get their point across and gather the resources needed to file a lawsuit against the state. Would it have been possible for Governor Snyder and the rest of the Flint authorities to overlook this crisis in a more affluent city? Probably not.

The Flint Water Crisis is a tragedy, even more so because it could have been prevented so easily. As we move on, we should consider the omnipresent role of money in politics and in the decisions that our representatives will make. We must not let the voices of less affluent cities be drowned out by the temptations of money.

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The Flint Water Crisis: Lessons Learned