[Marxism] Anger and Scrutiny Grow Over Poisoned Water in Michigan City
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Sat Jan 16 08:37:08 MST 2016
NY Times, Jan. 16 2016
Anger and Scrutiny Grow Over Poisoned Water in Michigan City
By SCOTT ATKINSON, AMY HAIMERL and RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA
FLINT, Mich. — Michigan’s attorney general opened an investigation
Friday into lead contamination in Flint’s drinking water, and the
governor asked President Obama to declare a disaster as National Guard
troops fanned out across this anxious city to help distribute bottled
water, water filters and testing kits.
The actions drew new scrutiny to an environmental crisis that poisoned
the water supply for a year and a half before it was addressed. The
contamination has left a city of 100,000 people unable to use tap water
for drinking, cooking or bathing, and has caused mounting political woes
for the governor, Rick Snyder.
In the last three weeks, a panel appointed by Mr. Snyder reported that
state officials had for months wrongly brushed aside complaints about
the contamination. The governor apologized for the state’s performance,
Michigan’s top environmental regulator resigned, and federal agencies
announced that they were investigating.
In Flint, a poor city plagued by aging infrastructure and declining
population, residents and business owners voiced anger, frustration and
“I mean, this is insane, you know?” Sonya Houston, 42, said as she
visited a fire station to pick up a water filtration pitcher. She said
that she and her husband had only recently found a new home and that
their daughters, ages 7 and 8, “can’t even use the water in their own home.”
Now, they are considering moving out of the city. Holding up the
pitcher, she said, “This is not enough to keep us here.”
Jason White, vice president for medical affairs at a local hospital,
McLaren Flint, said the water supply became so poor in 2014 “that we got
reports from our sterile processing people, those who clean the surgical
instruments, that they were seeing corrosion,” prompting the hospital to
replace its water filters.
Since Monday, when officials began distributing emergency supplies at
fire stations, thousands of people have streamed in, and aid workers
have rationed lead testing kits, one per person, for fear of running
out. “The volume of people that have been coming here, it’s a nonstop
deal for 12 hours a day,” said David Cox Jr., the city fire chief. “We
weren’t ready for it.”
The governor sent two requests Thursday night to the Federal Emergency
Management Agency, which this week has been distributing its own surplus
supplies of bottled water, saying that the crisis was beyond the state’s
ability to manage. One asks that the president declare a state of
emergency, allowing for immediate assistance like water, food and
generators; the other asks him to declare a major disaster, allowing for
millions of dollars in loans and grants to residents and the state for
long-term needs like new water pipes, an improved filtration plant or
temporary housing for residents.
FEMA and the White House declined to offer a timetable for a decision.
But Representative Dan Kildee, a Democrat whose district includes Flint,
said, “We expect something within the next couple of days.”
The attorney general, Bill Schuette, said Friday that his office would
investigate “what, if any, Michigan laws were violated in the process
that resulted in the contamination crisis.” Mr. Schuette, a Republican,
is considered a likely candidate for governor. Mr. Snyder, also a
Republican, cannot run again in 2018 because of term limits.
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The Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Justice are also
investigating possible violations of federal law.
Neither those agencies nor the office of Mr. Schuette (pronounced
SHOO-tee) would say what people or agencies might be the subjects of the
investigation. But the recent report from a task force appointed by the
governor blamed the state’s Department of Environmental Quality, saying
that officials there had taken a lax approach to enforcement and that
they responded to concerns about Flint’s water with “aggressive
dismissal, belittlement and attempts to discredit these efforts and the
Researchers at Virginia Tech who looked into the lead poisoning were
even more damning, reporting last month that Michigan officials not only
ignored complaints about the smell, taste and color of the water, but
also lied about lead levels and tried to conceal evidence. And there
have been reports that the city failed in its own lead-testing duties.
The state says it has identified 43 people suffering from elevated
levels of lead, which poisons the nervous system and can stunt brain
development in children. In addition, state officials disclosed this
week that in 2014 and 2015, there was a spike in Legionnaire’s disease
cases in Genesee County, which includes Flint, including 10 fatalities,
coinciding with the contamination of the water supply. They said they
were investigating whether there might be a connection.
From 2011 to 2015, Flint was in state receivership, its finances
controlled by a succession of four emergency managers appointed by Mr.
Snyder’s administration. The state returned some financial control to
the city last year, and Mr. Snyder said Friday that he wanted to give it
still more autonomy.
It was one of those state-appointed managers who, in a cost-cutting
move, switched the city in April 2014 from taking water from Detroit’s
system to drawing water from the Flint River.
Almost immediately, people began to complain about the water’s color,
smell and taste. Bacterial contamination was found, and then the
chemicals used to disinfect the water caused a different kind of
contamination, but state officials insisted that the problems had been
managed and that the water was safe.
It was not until September that evidence of lead poisoning became
public, and officials began to acknowledge it. It turned out that the
river water was corrosive, causing lead to leach from pipes.
The city switched back to using Detroit water in October, but it is
unclear how long the leaching will continue. Flint is a member of a
regional water authority that is building a new pipeline to bring water
from Lake Huron, which should be operational later this year.
Monette Brown, 36, said she began using bottled water in 2014, after the
city supply changed, and well before she heard anything about lead
contamination. On Friday she had three cases stacked next to her dining
table. Even with a filter, she said, she did not feel safe letting her
children, ages 17, 8 and 5, use the tap water in her house on Flint’s
“It kind of scares me,” she said. “I have to go get my kids checked
often” for lead poisoning.
Early last year, the University of Michigan-Flint installed water
filters and began using more bottled water, said Susan E. Borrego, the
“Flint has, well, there are moments when you think we can’t get a
break,” Dr. Borrego said.
Still, there are occasional flashes of grim humor. At the Flint Crepe
Company, a sign under the water jug on the bar reads, “unleaded.”
The Department of Environmental Quality has acknowledged that it should
have required that anti-corrosion chemicals be added to the river water,
and that it should have taken complaints more seriously.
“I do not believe it was any type of willful neglect or disregard,” said
Keith Creagh, interim director of the department. “But I think it was a
culture that was not inquisitive enough to bring new data in, to have a
more substantive conversation around the appropriate outcome.”
Mr. Kildee asked for a federal disaster declaration in September. Mr.
Snyder declared a state of emergency on Jan. 5, and this week he
activated the National Guard, asked for help from FEMA and sought a
“Everything they have done at the state level has been way too late,”
Mr. Kildee said. “What I am hoping does not get lost is the need to
provide, on a long-term basis — and I mean decades — support for the
kids who were poisoned.”
Scott Atkinson and Amy Haimerl reported from Flint, and Richard
Pérez-Peña from New York. Mitch Smith contributed reporting from Chicago.
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