Toxic Water Crisis in Flint, Michigan

The city of Flint’s toxic water supply has been making national headlines for the past few weeks. The problems began when officials switched the source of the city’s water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River as a cost saving measure. Thanks to the highly corrosive river water, aging pipes began to leach lead into the water.

Government officials, including the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, ignored initial reports from worried consumers of smelly and rusty water, belittled whistle blowers and independent researchers, and possibly even covered up information about high lead levels in the water that many of the city’s 99,000 residents were drinking and using every day.

The water supply was switched back to Lake Huron last October, but the community now has to deal with the fallout. Permanently damaged pipes continue to leach lead and residents still can’t drink the water. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has apologized, local, state and federal officials have all declared a State of Emergency, and the National Guard has been called in to deliver bottled water, water filters, and home testing kits. The long-term costs include not only the potentially $1.5 billion price tag to repair the pipes, but the immense health costs of dealing with the effects of lead poisoning, including potentially permanent learning and behavior disorders—especially in children.

Now, comes concern that a recent spike in the city’s cases, including up to ten deaths, of Legionnaire’s disease, a water born illness, may be due to the change in water source—a potential issue raised months ago by the same independent researcher who had uncovered the lead problem.

Our takeaway at WWYW? The crisis serves as an important reminder that environmental threats to our health can develop at any time, and the systems, laws, and people meant to protect us can often fail.

The best way to protect ourselves? Stay aware and educated. An educated consumer with a healthy dose of common sense has the best chance of being able to react quickly to changing conditions. In addition, WWYW strongly believes and advocates that we all need to continue to demand transparency and independent third party testing from our providers— from governments to manufacturers to utilities to suppliers—of all the goods and services that we use every day in every aspect of our lives.