Why does Flint not have clean water
The water crisis in Flint began 5 years ago. And it's not over yet.
Pipes are being changed, authorities say the water is safe, but residents are still concerned, drinking bottled water and distrusting their elected representatives.
On April 25, 2014 in Flint, Michigan, a group of smiling officials stepped in front of the television cameras, held up glasses, and made a toast to the city's new source of water: the Flint River.
"Let's drink to Flint!" Said Mayor Dayne Walling, taking a sip of river water.
That day the Flint water crisis began. Almost immediately, Flint citizens reported to authorities that there was something wrong with the water, which smelled terrible, tasted like metal, and apparently caused a rash. They confronted their elected representatives in front of the town hall and held out bottles of rust-colored water from their taps - only to be told again and again that the water was okay.
But it wasn't. The authorities in Flint had failed to include corrosion protection in the river water supply. Lead from the city's old pipes got into the water, causing alarming levels of lead in the blood of many residents. The outcry that followed brought a change of city leadership, criminal charges against state and municipal officials, and years of efforts to replace the dangerous Flint lead pipes.
But the water crisis in Flint is far from over.
"This community is still struggling with the trauma and aftermath of being poisoned by the government," said Karen Weaver, who took over from Mr. Walling's mayor primarily out of anger over the water crisis, in an interview this week. Ms. Weaver continues to advise citizens to drink only bottled or filtered water.
On Thursday, pastors and activists met in front of the city's water treatment plant to solicit further help. Some wore T-shirts that said "Flint Is Still Broken". Half a decade after the onset of the water crisis, some things have changed in Flint - and some not.
The interest has subsided, just not in Flint
Five years ago, Melissa Mays was a concert organizer at Flint, drinking tap water without ever worrying about lead or legionella. But when the water went bad, she opened her mouth. She organized protests, filed lawsuits and became one of the most famous faces for the plight of her city.
Today she only drinks bottled water. She only takes a short shower. She does not trust the statements of the government. "It's a chain of nightmares," Ms. Mays said this week.
She scaled back her work in the music industry. Today she helps others to get social benefits. And in human terms, too, she has paid a price. “I used to be a lot more optimistic and cheerful,” she said. "Today I'm just pissed off."
A few years ago, it appeared that Flint was getting enough national attention to tackle the water crisis. But not enough has been done, says Mays. The interest has subsided. Confidence has waned.
"We're back to the beginning and we're screaming our hearts out," said Ms. Mays. "And apparently nobody can hear us."
"We don't trust the thing."
According to the state of Michigan, the water in Flint now meets federal standards. The lead and copper values have been lowered. "The water in Flint is now consistently delivering the same or better results than similar cities in this state and country," the state said.
But the citizens are suspicious. Finally, in 2014 and 2015, the authorities insisted the water was safe and brushed aside all concerns of the citizens. Bottled water is still very much in demand, and suspicions about the city's lead pipes, its decaying water infrastructure and just about everything else remain high.
"We don't trust this," says Mayor Weaver. "Our trust has been abused at every level of government."
Ms. Weaver promised to replace all lead and galvanized steel pipes in town when she took office, and she has made progress. More than 8000 lines have already been replaced and thousands more have been checked and identified as containing no lead. The rest - a total of 7000 pieces - will be completed this summer, she hopes.
However, as work on the pipes continued, the authorities have also tried to wean citizens off the free water bottles distributed by the National Guard at the height of the crisis.
The state bottled water distribution stations were closed last year. Bottles donated by Nestlé are still being distributed, but only in a few places and on certain days, and there are no further commitments beyond August.
The need came before the water
In Flint, the problems didn't start with the water. By the mid-20th century, Flint was a small but thriving town, a center of manufacturing with plenty of solid middle-class jobs at General Motors. But when the automotive industry wavered, Flint also stumbled.
When Flint lost thousands of factory jobs, many residents left the city as well. You can still find abandoned and dilapidated houses all over the city, marked by vandalism and occupied by squatters. The city is still losing citizens: In 2017 the population of Flint fell to 96,448. In 1960 the city was twice as big.
"The water issue is a symptom of a much bigger problem facing a community with a very rich past that rightly feels that it is constantly being disadvantaged," said Democratic MP Dan Kildee, whose district includes Flint.
Although the city helped itself to its feet with its universities and a small but energetic push to rebuild small businesses, the solid manufacturing jobs that were lost decades ago could not be replaced. And with falling tax revenues, the city's finances also got into trouble. Most recently, the situation was so precarious that a state emergency management system was used to oversee the city administration - a measure that angered local elected officials and led many in this democratic stronghold to suspect that Republican Governor Rick Snyder wanted to usurp control on the spot.
The town was still under the management of an emergency manager when the water supply in Flint was changed to save money.
"I think Flint was on the verge of a crisis even before the water crisis," said Mr. Kildee. "It only took one small thing to bring the barrel to overflow."
Criminal complaints and more waiting
The authorities vowed justice would be done to Flint. The culprits for the water crisis would be held accountable, they promised. "These lawsuits are just the beginning," said Bill Schuette, former Michigan attorney general, three years ago when he first filed criminal charges. "There will be more - I guarantee you that."
And there were more. To date, criminal charges have been filed against 15 people from state and local authorities because of the water crisis in Flint. The lawsuits extend to senior Michigan state circles, indicating that authorities have failed to warn citizens of the known risks and have placed the desire for cost savings in the financially tight flint before the safety of drinking water.
Today, five years later, no one has gone to prison. Seven people admitted their wrongdoing under an agreement in criminal proceedings, while others - including some top-level employees - are still pending.
“The question of whether they can get a trade through or go to jail is very important to the community,” said Eric Mays, a member of the Flint City Council, who is not related to Melissa Mays. He added: "We watch every step very closely."
New faces at the top
Some of the city council people who toasted Flint's new water supply on camera are no longer there - at least in part because of the water.
A re-election of Mr. Walling, born in Flint and a former Rhodes scholar who was predicted to have a promising political career, came to nothing in late 2015 when test results confirmed what citizens had suspected for months.
Others who are no longer there: Mr. Snyder, then governor of Michigan; a manager appointed by the state to oversee Flint's finances; and many other state and local officials involved in the city's water supply.
Mr. Snyder could not run for re-election due to term restrictions. Flint was arguably the most difficult chapter of his eight years as governor. He himself escaped legal action, but some of his staff have been charged and some citizens see him as guilty.
Councilor Mays says he has seen progress since the city was removed from state oversight and since Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer took office this year.
Ms. Weaver sounds hopeful too.
“I don't want to say it's over. But we are moving from crisis to recovery and the progress we have made is visible. "
The New York Times, "Flint's Water Crisis Started 5 Years Ago. It's Not Over": https: //www.nytimes.com/2019/04/25/us/flint-water-crisis.html, accessed on May 3, 2019 .
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