What happened to Flint?
It’s been years since the water crisis in Flint, Michigan has occurred. Many talked and lamented at the time of the incident, but where are they now? Flint still does not have clean water, yet our society has moved on and left these people in the dust. Maybe this is because it is our way of life, empathizing one moment and forgetting the next. Or maybe, we have not given another thought to the citizens of Flint because they are not a wealthy, predominantly white city.
When my hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania recently experienced a water crisis that in some ways was similar to the one in Flint, I did not know what to expect. I thought we would go years without clean water, just like them. But it only took a few days for our water to become clean again, and I wondered why. I believe this is because of the fact that society often forgets about the poorer cities, which are generally predominantly black, experiencing a crisis and instead works harder to fix issues in wealthier, predominantly white cities.
The Flint water crisis occurred because of the government’s decision to save money on water. Flint was under a state of emergency, due to near bankruptcy, from 2011-2015 which meant that the government could change the functions of the executive, legislative, or judiciary during that time. Governor Rick Snyder appointed an emergency manager for the city’s finances. Flint officials decided to explore the option of saving money through switching from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA). Through the KWA, they could build their own pipeline that connected Flint to Lake Huron and was projected to save the city $200 million over the course of 25 years. The issue was, this system was not built yet, so officials needed a backup water supply until it was. The Flint water crisis began in April of 2014 when the Flint River became the main water source of the city until the KWA pipelines were completed. The water from the river had been contaminated with lead due to insufficient water treatment, and thousands of residents were poisoned by the water. The city did not issue a lead advisory until September 2015, ignoring residents’ complaints about discolored water. It was not until December 2015 that the city issued a state of emergency. Because Flint officials refused to acknowledge the water crisis, they allowed thousands of residents to drink contaminated water that led to illnesses and diseases for more than a year.
The impact of the water crisis in Flint is so much larger than compared to Pittsburgh. 41.2% of Flint residents live below the poverty line, and the median income is $24,862 (CNN). 56.6% of Flint’s residents are African American. Compare this to Pittsburgh where African Americans make up 26.1% of the population, 22.9% of residents are below the poverty line, and the median income is $40,715. Flint’s residents have had the great expense of buying their own bottled water and filters, an unfair burden to be dealing with for years for anyone. Some cannot even afford filters, so their family suffers sicknesses from bathing or washing dishes in the contaminated water.
Is the reason officials dismissed Flint residents’ concerns because they knew they were a poor, politically weak population and could not retaliate? This could very well be the case. Many Flint residents can not fight back by moving because their houses are practically worth nothing, and most are already in poverty. They are too poor to afford anything else. Due to this, Flint’s residents cannot escape the poisoned water and are forced to deal with it as best as they can. Officials knew that the residents did not have the money to fight back so they continued to brush off the matter until it was obvious that they could not anymore. The government is supposed to represent the people, yet in such a crisis as Flint they ignored the people’s issues and placed the importance of money over human life instead. This crisis was totally avoidable, it would have just cost $200 a day to treat the water with an anti-corrosive to prevent lead from contaminating it. The government did not hear complaints from wealthy white residents because they remained unaffected by the crisis and could provide clean water for themselves. All of this to cut costs and save money? It seems convenient that this occurred in a poor neighborhood as opposed to a wealthy one. Can you imagine if this crisis occurred in Beverly Hills? It wouldn’t. Those people have enough money to supply themselves with clean water and enough influence to fix the problem as soon as it occurs. Because Flint officials knew that poor, mainly African American residents were not considered important or influential by society, they decided that they would continue to pretend everything was fine.
As of January 2017 Flint’s lead levels are below the federal limit, but residents still cannot drink the tap water, implying it is still unsafe. Residents have been advised to continue completing daily tasks with bottled or filtered water until all of the lead pipes have been replaced, a project that will be completed no sooner than 2019. Flint does not have the support or resources necessary to speed the process along, but this problem should have never occurred in the first place. The government should have paid the extra $200 a day for the pipes to carry clean water instead of pretending that the politically weak do not matter. All of Flint’s residents deserve the clean water that they are currently unable to receive.