“Residents have been fooled ‘too many times’ and will never trust the water again.”
Flint, Michigan, a city that used to be famous for producing cars but gained notoriety almost three years ago for its poisoned water supply, last week marked its 1000th day without clean drinking water. Nevertheless, the 100,000 mostly poor, predominantly Black residents of Flint have been informed that the current levels of lead in their water no longer exceed federal limits. That would be good news – if you could believe it, and if lead were the only problem with Flint’s water. Mona Hanna-Attisha doesn’t believe the water is safe for drinking. She’s the pediatrician who helped blow the whistle on skyrocketing rates of lead in the blood of Flint’s children, after state emergency financial managers forced the city to draw its water from the heavily polluted Flint River. Dr. Hanna-Attisha says the federal regulations are too weak to protect young brains and bodies from stunted development.
Gina Luster, a community organizer in Flint, warns that, even if lead levels are down, the there’s plenty of other harmful stuff in the water. Her advice is, “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.” Luster says she and other residents have been fooled “too many times” and will never trust the water again.”
Nine people have so far been criminally charged in the poisoning of Flint’s water, eight of them state employees. But no one at the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which has broad powers over the whole country’s water supply, has been charged with a crime. The EPA, however, is on President Donald Trump’s hit list -- not for failing the people of Flint, but for sometimes getting on the wrong side of Trump’s friends in polluting industries. The Trump administration has frozen all EPA grants and contracts, which put in question $100 million that Congress allocated to help Flint replace and repair its water infrastructure. Michigan’s two Senators, both of them Democrats, got worried when they heard about the freeze from news reports. Neither the White House nor the EPA could say for sure whether Flint’s money had been tied up by the freeze. Plus, the money doesn’t exactly have Flint’s name on it. The $100 million is supposed to be awarded to “a municipality that is, or has been, the subject of an emergency declaration due to lead contamination. The bill doesn’t mention Flint by name. However, the funds should eventually find their way to Flint, since it’s the only city in the country that fits that description.
Multiply that by 3,000
But, when it comes to lead poisoning, Flint is anything but alone. An investigative report by the Reuters news agency, in December, showed that children in nearly 3,000 communities across the country show lead levels in their blood at least twice as high as kids in Flint. In more than 1,100 neighborhoods, kids tested four times higher than children in Flint. At the peak of the contamination of Flint’s water, 5 percent of children tested had high levels of lead. However, in some neighborhoods in South Bend, Indiana almost one-third of the kids had high lead levels. Pennsylvania is the state with the most census tracts with lead-contaminated water. Thirty-six percent of the kids in Warren, Pennsylvania tested high for lead.
So, if Flint needs $100 million to tackle a lead problem that is, supposedly, close to under control, how much money is needed to make the water safe in 3,000 other communities across the country?