(The Flint River, which contains water so corrosive that it introduced lead into the city’s water supply)
An environmental and human disaster continues to unravel in Flint, Michigan, where residents are plagued by lead-contaminated water.
In April, 2014, city officials decided to switch Flint’s water source from Lake Huron (which also supplies Detroit with its potable water) to the Flint River, which was widely known even then as a severely contaminated body of water. The move was intended to cut costs, a priority of authorities all over debt-stricken Michigan, where deindustrialization and a shrinking tax-base have left the state immiserated.
Designed to cut $5 million over several years, the switch has precipitated a disaster that some analysts predict could cost as much as $1.5 billion to fix.
A class action law suit has been filed alleging that Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and Flint city officials are responsible for switching the beleaguered city’s water with a source that was “dangerous, unsafe and … inadequately treated” simply because it was a cheaper option.
The water from the Flint River is so toxic that its corrosiveness has introduced lead from the city’s pipes into the water system. Even though the city has switched back to Lake Huron, the damage is done; the pipe system will continue emitting dangerous lead into the water supply.
The crisis has spurred three state of emergencies – declared by authorities at the local, state, and federal levels. The State Attorney General Bill Schuette has announced that he will investigate how the events unfolded. “The situation in Flint is a human tragedy in which families are struggling with even the most basic parts of daily life,” Schuette remarked in a statement made to reporters. The National Guard has been deployed to distribute bottled water and filters.
Somewhere between 6,000 and 12,000 people are believed to have experienced severe health issues resulting from lead poisoning stemming from the contamination, which may also be responsible for an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that has killed 10 people.
The long-term costs are going to be huge, and will no doubt further complicate the fiscal situation for local and state governments already under severe strain. Much of the cost of this egregious mismanagement will likely fall on the federal government.
There are, however, a number of ways that everyday citizens can help alleviate some of the stress faced by Flint residents. Through United Way, people can donate to the Flint Water Fund to help provide safe water for residents. The Flint Child Health and Development Fund is accepting donations to help provide medical and dietary care for sick children.
Key Elements Group LLC will continue covering the story as more details and updated cost estimates emerge.