When it’s time to cut costs, the last thing you’ll want your local governor to do is suggest ‘switching’ water supplies to a less healthy option, but that’s apparently what appears to have happened in the Flint water disaster. In Flint, Michigan, citizens were repeatedly told their water was safe to drink when it wasn’t. The change of supply from the water system in the Detroit River to the Flint River caused a surge of young people who suffered from lead poisoning. Questions were then raised about the safety of the new water source. The Governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, eventually changed his mind and switched the water source back after 18 months of constant complaints. Despite his change of heart, and decision to offer community members free water filters to try and resolve the issue (whilst still maintaining the water was safe to consume), the situation was declared a state of emergency and President Obama got involved.
The Mayor of Flint, Karen Waver, first took action against Snyder and the state. It wasn’t until three weeks after this that Rick Snyder agreed to a declaration of emergency on January 6th, and on November 3rd of the same year, the town took matters into their own hands and filed a class-action lawsuit that was like something out of the Julie Roberts movie, “Erin Brockovich.” The plaintiffs, otherwise known as the community members of the town of Flint, are accusing the defendants, Rick Snyder and the State of Michigan, of causing “serious personal injury” with the switchover of the water supply. The fallout has been horrendous; toxic water was pumped into homes, schools, businesses, workplaces, and public places, too.
The water problem severely impacts young children as traces of lead (which was found in the water) can cause lead poisoning. If a child is exposed to high levels of lead, symptoms can include seizure, a coma, and in some serious cases, death. Symptoms of minor contamination can cause problems with kidneys, brain, bone marrow, and other vital systems and organs. All quite frightening when you consider that one Facebook user reported over four percent of the young population of Flint in Michigan tested positive for HIGH levels of lead in their blood streams. It’s even more frightening when you can smell, see, and taste the difference in the water, something that town members had been complaining about for many months to no avail.
The problem gets even worse when you consider that the disaster was technically a man-made one, meaning Flint only received federal aid of $5 million, granted by President Obama. The original request for a declaration of a disaster was denied because of the man-made element, preventing any further federal cash being passed their way to help deal with the crisis. Whether President Obama agreed with the decision is neither here nor there. By federal law, his hands were pretty much tied.
If the disaster declaration had been granted, more federal money would have been granted to Flint to enable them to better deal with the toxic-water problem, but these declarations are reserved for natural tragedies only – floods, hurricanes and droughts for example. This particular emergency had been caused by a human decision to change the water supply, and therefore, the poisoning problem had been caused by mankind and was not a natural occurence. Despite this, the president went ahead to declare the situation an emergency, still allowing the 75% of the costs for equipment such as filter cartridges, filters, and fresh, clean water for those affected to prevent any further sickness, and to start the cleanup mission.
The entire story has caused quite the controversy, with social media helping to fuel the fire, spreading the story far and wide with a plethora of images showing dirty water in bottles, sinks and bath tubs. The Department of Environmental Quality for Michigan finally admitted they hadn’t completed all testing required to deem the water safe and that lead levels were not properly managed or thoroughly monitored. If they had been, chemicals could have been added to the water supply to ensure lead poisoning didn’t happen. Jim Ananich, State Senate Minority Leader, said that it was important they remained committed to the crisis and accepting responsibility for it, and also ensure that mistakes were corrected and long-term impact of the disaster controlled.
Of course, with all the social media awareness, celebrities have started to sit up and pay attention to the story, with one singer, in particular, sending 180,000 bottles of clean and safe drinking water to the town. It was reported by People Magazine that Cher had worked for hand in hand with Icelandic Glacial to have the water shipped. She spoke out and said the crisis was one that needed to be addressed and ensured would not happen again.