Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Flint Water Crisis: #FlintLivesMatter


The Flint Water Crisis


     On January 16th President Obama declared a federal state of emergency in Flint Michigan because of its polluted water. Residents there cannot bathe in or drink the water, all children under the age of six have been exposed to lead poisoning and the national guard has been called in to help facilitate the process of getting clean/donated water to the people.

     According to USA Today Network Journalist Jessica Durrando, "Flint's drinking water became contaminated with lead in April 2014 while the city was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager. As a cost-cutting move, the city began temporarily drawing its drinking water from the Flint River and treating it at the city water treatment plant while it waited for a new water pipeline to Lake Huron to be completed. Previously, the city used Lake Huron water treated by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. The state Department of Environmental Quality has conceded it failed to require needed chemicals to be added to the corrosive Flint River water. As a result, lead leached from pipes and fixtures into the drinking water."

     Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder who has been singled out as dropping the ball of this has stated for the record, "I'm sorry and I will fix it," and "Government failed you at the federal, state and local level." Aside from apologies, what are the short and long term solutions to solving this problem that has effected so many lives, especially our children? Like with many stories we see circulating in the news, some people view a crisis like this as having nothing to do with them. I beg to differ and refer you to the words of Dr. Martin Luther King who said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

     In Niagara Falls, NY we had one of the worst environmental tragedies in American history happen in community called the Love Canal. From the early 1940's to the mid-1950's Hooker Chemical Company, with government sanction, began using a partially dug canal as a chemical waste dump which equated to almost 22,000 tons of toxic waste being buried there. After covering the site with dirt and selling the land to the Niagara Falls Board of Education for $1 with a disclaimer, construction of a school and homes eventually began on this site. By the 1970's this landfill was in proximity to approximately 800 single family homes, 240 low-income apartments and a public elementary school. It was also during the late 1970's that complaints of odors and substances seeping through the ground were taken seriously and it was discovered that toxic vapors and the contents from this chemical landfill began to were indeed seeping into the drinking water, soil and basements of the residents, for years. This exposure was linked to everything from asthma, seizures, cancer, miscarriages, birth defects and various other issues. As with present day Flint Michigan, President Jimmy Carter declared a federal state of emergency in 1978 and some of the families were evacuated. A second federal state of emergency  was declared by President Carter in 1981 to relocate the other families after being pressured by activists.

     Like Flint Michigan, all municipalities, including the one where you live, cut costs and/or corners when it comes to its citizens. Publically it's called "balancing the budget", privately it's oftentimes a very different conversation. In Flint Michigan, that cost/corner cutting, or should I say neglect, was in the area of waste water treatment/management. In your city it may be the school district. Somewhere else it may be infrastructure. Other places it's a combination of cut costs/corners, especially when a large segment of its population is poor, disenfranchised, unemployed or uneducated. In many cases these communities are primarily people of color.

     While some of your local and regional public officials are striving to do their best to serve you, many are not for various reasons. Sometimes they're self serving and aren't concerned about the citizens. Sometimes they lack a consensus among their peers to get something done. Sometimes they lack civic engagement or valuable input from their citizens. Most times there are  layers of cost/corner cutting among city employees, department heads, city administrators, contractors and etc. that public officials have to strive to deal with, if they're not a part of the problem. As the crisis in Flint unfolds, the blame game has also commenced. Although Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder must be held responsible for this water crisis, he did not act alone and public officials on the regional and local level must be held accountable too.

     This should be more than a wake-up call for us to become more civically engaged where we live. As citizens, we are not immune to neglect. If you or anyone you know wants to help the families in Flint with a monetary donation, you can do so at this website: The Community Foundation of Greater Flint [CFGF]. The city is striving to streamline financial efforts through the Community Foundation of Greater Flint; a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and your gift is tax deductible to the extent allowed by law.

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