Above photo: NurPhoto/Getty Images.
In 2014, the water source of the city of Flint, Michigan, was switched from Lake Huron to the untreated and polluted Flint River, tainting the city’s water supply and setting off a chain of events that led to at least 12 deaths from Legionnaires disease, as well as miscarriages, brain and developmental damage to children, and lead poisoning for the 100,000 residents of Flint.
In late August, the state of Michigan offered a $600 million settlement to those affected. Activist Melissa Mays of the Flint advocacy group Water You Fighting For says that the settlement does not go far enough to compensate the residents of Flint.
“$600 million sounds like a lot, I know that it does from the outside, but you got to figure there are 100,000 people in Flint,” Mays said.
Mays argues that even over 2,300 days since the start of the crisis, the city of Flint still does not have safe water, and most residents are still buying bottled water for their daily needs. Thousands of damaged water service lines have not yet been replaced. Every time a community water line bursts, chlorine, which is necessary to kill residual bacteria, is lost from the system. In addition, the corrosive water that went through Flint’s pipes did not stop at the city-provided ones—It affected every pipe and fixture in residents’ homes, making them all a source of danger until they are replaced.
The city of Flint was part of an austerity effort by the state of Michigan to appoint emergency managers to handle cities’ “fiscal crises.” Emergency managers have been appointed in 89% of Black majority cities in Michigan and no white majority cities. These managers are able to ignore citizens and city councils, and have privatized many of the cities’ resources. In 2014, Flint’s emergency manager, Darnell Earley, was responsible for switching the water source to the polluted Flint River. This decision was made knowing the potential grave consequences for residents’ health. Later in 2015, a new emergency manager, Gerald Ambrose, overruled a unanimous decision by Flint’s city council to stop using the water from the Flint River.
Because of this history and the continuing problems in Flint caused by emergency managers, Flint residents do not have much trust in the government officials who are supposed to help them.
“The minute they stop saying ‘everything is fine and they are going to move Flint forward,’ that will be a good step to earning our trust,” Mays said. “Just because we don’t have Ph.D.s doesn’t mean we didn’t learn quick.”
The original lawsuit in this case was filed in January of 2016 and is only being settled now with one party (the state of Michigan). According to May, this is evidence that everyone involved has not been interested in the welfare of the people of Flint. The coalition Flint Rising (Mays’ organization is a member) has been the only group talking to the residents of Flint about what action they actually want to resolve the crisis, by going door to door and interviewing them. Flint Rising found out that the people of Flint want all pipes and fixtures impacted by the crisis replaced, residents hired to make the necessary repairs, every water bill to be refunded. and full holistic health care for life.