Monthly Archives: January 2016

Flint,MI: Profit and Politics before People

Happy New Year to all my followers and readers! It has been about a month since my last post, life got a little hectic with the holiday season and me leaving to Boston for half a month to take winter classes. Now, I am finally back and ready to take on my second semester of Graduate School and write some more. While I was away I received some emails with updates regarding the situation going on in Flint, Michigan and could not believe that this was going on right here in the US since 2014. 

Tub_Flint_water

In 2014 Flint, Michigan decided to start drawing its water from the Flint River instead of getting its water from Detroit, MI as an effort to save money. What followed was a series of boil water advisories, complaints about the smell, taste, and appearance of the water, as well as reported rashes and other health related concerns.  On September 24th Dr. Mona Hanna Attisha urged Flint to stop using the water from the Flint River after finding high levels of lead in children’s blood. The State of Michigan insisted that the water was safe and disregarded the findings of this study.

            “The city of Flint under state-appointed emergency management, almost bankrupt … switched their water source from Detroit, which was fresh Great Lakes water source, which we’ve been using for over 50 years, to the local Flint River to save money.

“And that local Flint River was innately more corrosive than the Great Lakes water source. And the critical corrosion inhibitor, which is mandatory for all drinking water systems to use … was not added to that water.

“So you had a more corrosive water source without the corrosion control added to it, going into an aging infrastructure with a lot of lead plumbing. That was a perfect storm for that lead to leach out of the pipes into the drinking water and into the bodies of children.”

                                                                                                                     -Dr. Mona Hanna Attisha

 

 

 

Coroded Pipes

Corroded Pipes in Flint, MI

 

Flint, like most of the United States has an antiquated piping and plumbing system that hasn’t been updated in ages. While this is a separate problem in and of itself across the country, this is the reason lead has entered the water system. 

Ever since I could remember my parents and teachers taught me the dangers of lead and the effects it can have on my health yet it seems that state officials may have missed that lesson. There are countless papers with empirical evidence that shows the dangers of lead and how it can affect almost every organ and system in the body.Children, women of childbearing age, and the elderly are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning. Lead poisoning  can cause irreversible neurological damage, anaemia, hypertension, and other health complications (WHO).

lead

Flint (38.9% poverty rate), like the cities of Detroit (42.3%) and Lansing (36.1%), shares the burden of having an overwhelmingly high percentage of the population living in poverty (Bloomberg, U.S. Census).  Flint, MI (Figure 1) has sectors where up to 70% of its residents are living in poverty and the majority of them are African-Americans and other minority groups (Figure 2). Detroit has been having its own share of problems with water shut off notices for those unable to pay for the outrageously high price for water (but that’s a whole other story-> Read about it here

Income_below_poverty_level_Flint_MI

Figure 1. Income below poverty level in Flint, MI (2013)

 

 

 

Flint_Dot_density

FIgure 2. Dot density map representing race in Flint, MI. Blue represents the African-American population and Red Represents White

 

 

SIde_by_side_flint_population

Figure 3. Side by side visualization of poverty level and race 

 

How is it possible that close to 100,000 people were exposed to these conditions and those in charge did not take quicker action? Reasons… Profit, Politics, and a disregard for the poor.

Profits and Politics > People

This is another gross example of how profit and politics are put before the wellbeing of people. Had this been a city like New York City or Los Angeles this would have been immediately remedied and alternative solutions would be readily available. The constituents of Flint, on the other hand, are not wealthy individuals, instead, they are a group of marginalized working people in need of assistance and without a voice.  Unfortunately, I believe that race and poverty are to blame for the lack of response and those who knowingly allowed for this disaster to occur must pay the price.  There is simply no justified answer that anyone can provide as to why this problem went on for so long when water sampling, recommendations by doctors, and complaints from residents indicated that the water was not safe to drink.

“I’ll tell you what, if the kids in a rich suburb of Detroit had been drinking contaminated water and being bathed in it, there would’ve been action.”

                                                                                                                                        – Hillary Clinton

I call for the immediate resignation of all elected officials that stood by and watched as this gross violation of human rights occurred. What has occurred is criminal and should be thoroughly investigated and those involved should be prosecuted for this heinous and incomprehensible disaster. Such negligence and disregard for the well-being of people should not exist in our political system and needs to be done away with. 

I don’t care if you are white, black, democrat, republican, legal, illegal, rich, poor, or any of the countless divides we have established in our society, but no person should be subjected to having lead or any other contaminants in their water. This should not be an issue of special interest, but one of human rights. Clean water, the most basic of human needs and a right that most of us take for granted should not be a casualty of bureaucracy. 

Moving Forward 

While no city or community should have to go though what Flint is going through it should be a  stark wake-up call for other cities and communities. City and state officials should not cut corners when it comes to infrastructure and basic necessities like water. It’s about time we invested in our infrastructure in order to avoid disasters such as this one. How many more pipe bursts and disasters will we wait for until we decide it is time to update?

It will take some time to actually quantify the damage that has been done in Flint since the damage is not restricted to the physical city but to the health of each individual.  I’m sure that in the near future we will learn more about what has happened and the full extent of the damage committed. 

 

Tap_samples_wlead.png

Figure 4. Percentage of tap water samples with lead above 5 ppm. 

 

For more information about the Flint Water Crisis and how you can help out visit www.flintwaterstudy.org 

 

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