CNN has a decent overview of the history of the problem. First, two years ago, during a financial state of emergency, the state government decided to switch the water supply for the city of Flint from Lake Huron to the Flint River to save money. From the beginning, Flint residents were alarmed because of its notoriously dirty appearance.
It was supposed to be temporary, but soon after the switch, the tap water started looking and smelling funny. The water was literally brown.
The reason the water turned brown is because the water of the Flint river is highly corrosive. A class action lawsuit alleges that the state did not treat the water with an anti-corrosive agent. This is a violation of federal law. And the corrosiveness dissolved the iron in the water pipes, getting it all in the water, hence brown.
What was also in those pipes, and then in the water, was lead, which is poisonous.
Despite all of this, for two years, state officials insisted that the water was fine.
In August 2014, researchers tested the Flint tap water and found elevated levels of lead.
It began with a woman who noticed odd health effects among her family. First, rashes and losing hair. Then her teenage son came down with unusual dizziness, nausea, and pain, causing him to miss school for three weeks.
Then, one kid out of her pair of twin sons began falling behind his brother in weight and developed a bad rash after being bathed in the tap water. He was diagnosed with lead poisoning.
She called a Virginia Tech professor and expert on water quality. He paid out of his own pocket to assemble a team and travel to Flint to test the water. He found "lead levels he had not seen in 25 years."
After that, people began to take notice and more tests were done. The Michigan state government continued to insist that everything was fine and that their own tests which conveniently found no problems were somehow more accurate.
Even as all this happened, the state government continued to largely ignore and deny the problem. It took Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha to make them, and the rest of the nation, to pay attention. Dr. Mona (as she prefers to be called) heads the pediatric residents program at Flint's Hurley Medical Center. This gave her access to a ton of data about the blood-lead levels in the city's children. Her and her staff dedicated themselves to getting the information and checking and re-checking the numbers. Among mounting public panic and suspicion over the fucked up water and illnesses, she eventually went around the bureaucracy and went public with her alarming findings. The state government shat on her for it, but the numbers couldn't be denied.
Finally, in October 2015, the government conceded, a state of emergency was declared, and the state released a plan to tackle the issue.
The city of Flint is no longer being supplied by the Flint river. The government switched the supply back to Lake Huron. However, the corrosive nature of the Flint river water means that the lead in their pipes is still exposed and, as a result, there is still lead in the water. This is why bottled water drives are still necessary and the people of Flint are still largely fucked.
Not to mention the fact that lead poisoning is irreversible and causes significant long-term developmental and cognitive effects.
Okay, so that's the basic story. Now we move into the massive cover up and general failures in government that took place among all this.
Government officials in the state of Michigan knew that the water was a health problem from very early on. Here are the allegations they're facing:
- Rigging water quality reports to avoid trouble from the feds. (Note: Link to ACLU report no longer works.)
- Bottled water was quietly distributed to state employees as early as January 2015.
- The EPA was aware of the corrosion issue as early as April 2015.
- The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) lied to the EPA about the use of corrosive control agents to treat the water.
- Governor Rick Snyder released some emails, citing a commitment to transparency, but a lot of information in these emails have been redacted and he refuses to release staff emails.
Meanwhile, clear racism in the issue and other state-sponsored fuckery:
- Over half the population of Flint is black.
- Flint residents are still getting billed for the poisoned, unusable water. And the bills are ridiculously high.
- A Flint resident claims that people who have refused to pay their water bills have been threatened with having their children taken away as not having running water in the home is grounds for that.
- An article on the topic of environmental racism and how people of color are disproportionately exposed to pollution and ignored by the EPA.
- ID was initially required to get free bottled water. It's not anymore, but undocumented immigrants are still afraid to collect it.
What's happening now:
- A state of emergency has been declared in Flint.
- The National Guard was recently called in to help distribute water.
- President Obama has approved $80 million in aid to help the residents.
- The state of Michigan has approved $28 million in aid to Flint and they want a whole lot more from the federal government to fix the lead pipes.
- Michael Moore writes about how donating water is pointless and what's really needed is revolt.
- A list of various ways to help the people of Flint (but don't donate to the Salvation Army, they're terrible).
Please let me know in the comments if I've missed anything.