A recent death in the family necessitated a return to the United States after living abroad for the past ten years. A family member in Miami has a large home, so I stayed there for six months while handling family business. From the very beginning, I noticed a slight discoloration in the tap water in Miami. It was not a thick discoloration but more like a light “tea” color something akin to Chamomile tea. Of course, I made inquiries but everyone seemed to be accustomed to it. No one seemed to think that there was anything unusual about the color or the after taste of the water. Most people just passed it off and stated that they buy “purified” water anyway (whatever that means). All of this prompted me to look further into the situation of the water supply in the US and particularly the Flint Michigan water crisis.
In short, the inhabitants of a small Michigan City with only about 100,000 residents were poisoned for more than two years through their city’s water supply. Apparently, a city manager tasked with finding ways to save the city money decided to switch the water supply from Lake Huron (which had been their water source for decades) to the Flint River. Now, Flint was once a thriving city where the General Motors car manufacturing company had a plant and employed thousands of residents. With a reduction in the workforce from 80,000 to just 5,000 workers, the city became a ghost town of abandoned houses, high unemployment, crime and impoverishment. It seems that both the Republican Governor and the Democratic Mayor share the responsibility for this catastrophic failure. Further, a state agency failed to enforce federal guidelines for corrosion control and to follow water-testing protocols. In addition, the state health department misdiagnosed the problem and then disputed the correct diagnosis made by other health and science professionals. To make matters worse, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) knew about the problem but kept quiet about it for months.
After the switch, the residents of Flint began complaining that the water looked, smelled, and tasted “funny.” It turned out that the water was highly corrosive, almost 20 times more corrosive than the previous water supply according to Virginia Tech researchers. In addition, the state Department of Environmental Quality was not treating the Flint River water with “any” anti-corrosive agent. This infraction alone is clearly a violation of Federal law. The corrosive water released lead into the water supply contaminating it. To cover things up, state officials told residents that everything was fine. However, when researchers from Virginia Tech began performing in-home tests and a Flint pediatric physician discovered that blood lead levels in local children doubled and tripled in some cases the scandal broke and made national news. In the aftermath, President Obama declared a state of emergency in Flint, Michigan after tests revealed that the water was in fact contaminated. Also, the National Guard was called in to hand out bottled water and water filters to 100,000 residents. This all led to the FBI announcing that it was joining a criminal investigation by the state attorney general to determine if Michigan officials and their “carelessness” should be classified as a crime.
The evidence collected by the researchers from Virginia Tech indicated that not only did state officials reject or ignore valid complaints but also they lied and concealed evidence regarding the water’s test results. This prompted the Michigan attorney general to open an investigation along with the EPA and the Department of Justice. Although the Governor of Michigan and the Mayor of Flint did not face any charges of criminal misconduct (however Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders called for the Governor’s resignation – remember, all this was happening during a Presidential election year), several state officials either resigned their posts or were indicted on felony charges. The first criminal charges were against three state Department of Environmental Quality employees for misconduct and tampering with evidence. Finally, in Washington, DC, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform conducted hearings on Examining Federal Administration of the Safe Drinking Water Act in Flint, Michigan with the administrator from the EPA and the Governor of Michigan.
This terrible incident presents several important issues worth considering. Such as, are water and food sources in America being deliberately poisoned for the purpose of economizing or profiteering? Are local, state and/or federal agencies charged with providing environmentally safe conditions for Americans derelict in their responsibilities? Finally, are there other cities with this type of criminal activity or something similar going on in America?
Recently, I read this disclaimer on a food product in a supermarket:
“WARNING: This product contains Acrylamide, a chemical known to the state of California to cause cancer and reproductive toxicity. Acrylamide is not added to these foods, but is created by the browning process (i.e., frying process). The FDA does not recommend that people stop eating potatoes. For more information, see the FDA’s website at www.fda.gov.”
“When government fails.” The Christian Century, 2 Mar. 2016, p. 7. Accessed Jul 16, 2018; “Troubled waters: toxic chemicals are in the tap water in Flint, Michigan. Romain, H. Science World/Currrent Science. 72-11 18 Apr 2016, p. 18. Accessed July 16, 2018; “In Flint water calamity, Michigan health chief accused over manslaughter charges.” Legal Monitor Worldwide, 19 June 2017. Accessed 16 July 2018; “Today, the first criminal charges were filed in the water debacle in Fling, Michigan.” CBS Evening News, 20 Aprl 2016. Accessed 16 Jul 2018; House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Hearing – Full committee hearing on Examining Federal Administration of the Safe Drinking Water Act in Flint, Michigan, Part 3 (24). Washington Newsmaker Transcript Database, 2016.