Reflecting on the trials and progress of the Flint Water Crisis
Dec. 14, 2017, marks the two-year anniversary of the initial declaration of a State of Emergency by the city of Flint, Mich. after a water disaster that was years in the making, with many implicated parties.
As was inevitable, the Flint crisis is no longer foregrounded in the national psyche, but the problems that populated the story at the apex of its attention are still very much at play, save for a small collection of promising improvements over the past couple years. The crisis has transcended health alone, with racial, social and cultural undercurrents all being interwoven within the tangle of the issue.
In Jan. 2017, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) claimed the city’s lead levels in the water were below the federal limit. Despite this positive development, the city still faces major issues relating to their water supply, and has endured a variety of health repercussions resulting from the acute exposure to lead.
Between 2014 and 2015, 12 deaths caused by Legionnaires’ disease were thought to have resulted from consumption of the tainted water. In Feb. 2017, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed this assumed link. Six officials have been charged with involuntary manslaughter because of the Legionnaires’ outbreak.
Beyond the outbreak of Legionnaires’, other health issues have developed. There also exists potential ties to increased fetal deaths and miscarriages, as well as decreased fertility rates.
Another milestone occurred in Feb. 2017 also. More than 1,700 residents of Flint sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), seeking $722 million in damages. The suit cited “negligent” mismanagement of the water crisis on the part of the EPA, though nothing concrete has so far resulted from the claim aside from the EPA’s small contribution to the recent settlement approved by a federal judge.
This settlement is likely the most heartening development in the Flint saga of late. In April, a federal judge approved a $97 million settlement requiring the State of Michigan and the City of Flint to replace the city’s lead pipes within three years. The city and state appear to be making steady progress towards achieving their goal in the year 2020, having already replaced roughly 6,200 lead and galvanized service lines towards a final total of 18,000.
These are but a few of the recent highlights in a story that continues to unfold, and although such a visceral example should be unnecessary, Flint likely exists as a tragic example and stark wakeup call to the American people regarding the importance of potable drinking water, a reminder moving forward towards more progressive policy and water management.