By Shanaya Day
The residents of Flint, Mich. have been slowly poisoned, and residents there say local and state officials are to blame.
To save thousands of dollars, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder hired an emergency manager for Flint who decided, with Snyder’s approval, to switch the water supply from Lake Huron, Detroit’s municipal system, to the Flint River in 2014.
As a result, the predominately black residents, living in an area surrounded by the Great Lakes, were left with no option but to drink and bathe in lead contaminated water. Lead serves no known beneficial purpose in the human body.
Research conducted by the University of Cincinnati’s Environmental Health Services shows that if lead enters the body, it primarily targets the nervous system, affecting the brain and resulting in behavior changes, such as irritability and shortened attention span, suppression of appetite, sleep disturbance, hyperactivity, hearing impairment, short-term memory loss, and reductions in intelligence. Early exposure to lead is also strongly linked to crime, experts say.
Not only does Flint River water contain toxins, it also has abnormal chemical levels. Multiple studies show that the water is highly corrosive to lead. Because a majority of the residents in Flint have decades-old lead service lines that connect the pipes in their homes to the city’s main water pipes, whenever water from the river flows through those pipes, corrosion occurs, causing lead particles to wash off the pipes, into the water supply, through the faucets and into cups.
According to the American Chemical Society, Flint purchased water from Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, who would draw water from Lake Huron, for over 50 years because Detroit’s water supply was properly treated with orthophosphate, a chemical that essentially coated the pipes as water flowed through them, preventing lead from getting into the water supply. After the switch to Flint River, residents immediately knew there was something different about the water.
Many of them described the water coming from their taps as a brownish-yellow color that smelled and tasted odd. After two years of allowing residents to drink contaminated water, Snyder finally decided to reach out to President Barack Obama and the Federal Emergency Management Agency for help. On Jan. 14, he requested that the president declare an Expedited Major Disaster as well as a declaration of Emergency for the State of Michigan. Only one request was granted.
Two days later, FEMA immediately stepped in, declaring a state of emergency for Michigan as a result of the elevated blood lead levels of citizens, especially children within the city of Flint. The former request was denied because the incident was not a result of a natural catastrophe, nor was it caused by fire, flood, or explosion.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton focused on Flint and criticized the way Snyder handled the situation in a debate on Jan. 17.“We’ve had a city in the United States of America where the population, which is poor in many ways and majority AfricanAmerican, has been drinking and bathing in lead-contaminated water, and the governor of the state acted as though he really didn’t care,” Clinton said. Like others, Clinton believes that if the same problem happened in a rich Detroit suburb, the governor would have responded more quickly.
She made an appearance at a predominately black church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa explaining to the congregation that the crisis is not just an environmental issue, but a civil rights issue as well. Environmental racism is a term referring to the disproportionate exposure of blacks to polluted water, soil, and air. Some students at DCCC expressed outrage that discrimination like this still exists today and that it is harming children. “It’s like an apartheid,” said Vernell Obey, a DCCC computer science graduate.
“Anything they can do to hurt or harm [AfricanAmericans]. Like police brutality isn’t enough. A grown man can take a beating from the cops if it doesn’t kill him. But children and drinking water being messed with? That’s where the line has been crossed.”
Obey, a resident of Lansdowne, does not think believe that a similar crisis would take place in his neighborhood. “Lansdowne, no. Chester, yes,” Obey said. “My neighborhood is mostly white so I don’t have to worry about that while I’m living here. I hate to say it out loud but I like that sense of security.” The city of Flint is not the only place believed to be targets of environmental racism.
Two years ago, scientist from the University of Cincinnati conducted a study on a 300 residents in a majority black Cincinnati neighborhood where people had been exposed to lead. Even a minuscule fragment of lead can have great effects on children, experts say.
“For those who had been exposed to lead as toddlers, even in small amounts, the scans revealed changes that were subtle, permanent, and devastating,” the study reported.
“The toxic metal had robbed them of gray matter in parts of the brain that enable people to pay attention, regulate emotions, and control impulses. “Lead also had scrambled the production of white matter that transmits signals between different parts of the brain, largely by mimicking calcium, an element that plays a critical role in brain development.” Today, Flint residents must still pay for their water.