[Marxism] Anger and Scrutiny Grow Over Poisoned Water in Michigan City

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
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 
fear.

“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 
individuals involved.”

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 
west side.

“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 
chancellor.

“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 
disaster declaration.

“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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