‘Flint water crisis: US taxpayers will pay for government screw up’

Volunteers distribute bottled water to help combat the effects of the crisis when the city's drinking water became contaminated with dangerously high levels of lead in Flint, Michigan, March 5, 2016. © Jim Young
The health risks to residents of Flint, Michigan, where thousands of people consumed locally supplied lead-tainted water, could have been avoided if the government took warnings seriously, Carla Howell of the National Libertarian Party told RT.

US President Barack Obama visited Flint, Michigan on Wednesday to discuss the water pollution crisis. To reassure people that supplies are safe to drink, Obama took a sip of local water. Since 2014, dangerous levels of lead have been detected in the city's drinking water coming from the Flint River. Citizens of the city and activists are trying to attract the federal government’s attention in order to bring local officials to account. However, no action has been taken so far.

RT: It's been two years since the contamination cases were first reported, some of them affecting children. Why has this major issue been neglected for so long?

Carla Howell: This case is one of absolute and utter government failure. Now, a lot of people are trying to blame it on government austerity – that the government was trying to cut costs. But this in fact was not the problem. The cost of this disaster is going to be far greater than the relatively trivial cost it would have been had they simply done - what they had been warned - which was if they were going to go back to using the Flint River water they needed to add phosphorus to the water so that it would offset the chlorine that causes the pipes to release lead. Had they done that - for a cost of $100,000, a relatively trivial amount - they would never have had this lead problem.

But they ignored that warning. And then when there started to be complaints about the quality of the water being substandard both the Federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Michigan Quality Control Agency in the state failed to detect lead in the water. The test they implemented were flawed and failed to detect the lead levels that were very dangerous in the water.

So it was a failure of bureaucracies, a failure of those involved to acknowledge what one person had warned them that they needed to add phosphorous to the water; it created this disaster that has now put lead in the water. Now it is going to cost not only millions of dollars to rebuild the pipes and fix it, but there is also going to be class action lawsuits. It is going to end up costing hundreds of millions of dollars instead of a $100,000 as it could have been done. We would have completely saved not only the money, but the lives and the health of the people in Flint. 

RT: President Obama has effectively called for philanthropists to contribute to the improvement of the water crisis in the city. Is he trying to make the population accountable for the accident instead of providing federal support?

CH: No matter how it is handled at this point, the problem with government is that the cost when government screws something up very badly, as they did here, is that that cost is always levied on the taxpayer one way or another way, whether it’s federal taxpayer, state, or local tax payers. The taxpayers are going to end up bailing out this situation caused by the government.

[Obama’s comments] inferred that not enough people are paying to rebuild the pipes. The problem with the pipes was caused by government. There wasn’t a problem with the pipes. There certainly wasn’t a need for this very expensive rebuilding if they had simply done the job right. But they failed. That is what President Obama is ignoring.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.