(TIML NEWS) It’s been three years since Flint, Mich., last had clean water. The crisis began in 2014, when it was discovered that the city’s recently switched water source to the Flint River was operating with corrosive damaged pipes, which exposed over 100,000 residents to high levels of lead. The crisis garnered brief media attention when a federal state of emergency was declared in early 2016 and Flint residents were instructed to use bottled or filtered water for drinking and bathing.
One need only look at the overwhelming support for Standing Rock to see the gap in public concern. Dakota Access Pipeline protests attracted celebrities, politicians and environmental activists, leading to an executive order from President Obama to halt the pipeline, which was later reversed under the Trump administration. As construction on the pipeline moves forward with plans to be operational in just a few weeks, thousands of demonstrators, including members from dozens of Indigenous tribes, organized a four-day protest against the pipeline and took to the streets of the nation’s capital over the weekend.
Meanwhile, problems are still ongoing in Flint. It’s since been discovered that the high lead levels were the cause of a recent outbreak of Legonnaires’ disease, which led to 12 deaths. The city received another blow in late February when the state abruptly decided to end its program providing residents and business owners with a credit to cover a portion of their water bills. This decision was made when lead levels dropped below the 1991 Federal Lead and Copper Rule, which stipulates a threshold of 15 parts per billion in order to consider water safe for drinking, though they still exceeded Synder’s new state recommendation of 10 parts per billion. Residents have been advised to continue drinking filtered and bottled water. The crisis only serves to highlight how out-of-date the law is.
Currently, more than 400 civil and class-action cases have been filed and are expected to be ongoing for years. Of the nine government employees who have been charged, two have cut deals with a special prosecutor. On Monday, former Michigan Director of Disease Control Corinne Miller pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of willful neglect and was sentenced to a year’s probation and ordered to write a public apology. The remaining seven defendants have scheduled preliminary exam dates for September and November. If the public doesn’t continue to pay attention and make a fuss, other government officials could receive similarly inadequate punishments.
The latest tests have shown Flint’s lead levels declining, but after so much deception and oversight, many residents don’t believe their tap water will ever be safe to drink again.