US House votes to block clean water rule as Flint scandal grows
The US House of Representatives voted 253-166 this week to overturn a controversial rule to protect America’s clean water in spite of a growing scandal in Flint, Michigan over poisonous levels of lead.
Representatives approved a resolution back by the Senate in November that blocks the Environmental Protection Agency’s "waters of the United States" (WOTUS) rule.
The regulation protects streams and wetlands used in local water supplies, but failed after a deluge of lobbying from corporations including Halliburton, Shell, and Tyson foods.
President Obama is expected to veto the bill to protect the rule, at the same time as he considers a request from Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to declare a state of emergency.
Frustrated residents have called for the Republican governor’s resignation after high levels of deadly lead were found in Flint’s drinking water.
The city switched its supply in April 2014 from Lake Huron to the Flint River in an effort to save $19 million.
Michigan health officials are investigating whether outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease in the area are connected to the lead levels. Ten deaths have already occurred in the area since switching sources.
One child was found to have a blood lead level of 6.4 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dl), well above the lead poisoning threshold of 5 mcg/dl.
The presence of lead has been attributed to the corrosion of pipes from the river, desperately in need of modernization.
In his statement to Obama, Snyder requests “federal aid in the form of Individual Assistance and Public Assistance to help eligible residents and state and local government entities to protect the health, safety and welfare of Flint residents.”
President Obama will review the request before any decision is made.
Residents protested Snyder’s slow response, gathering Thursday at the Michigan state Capitol building to call for his resignation.
The governor had received early warnings that the city’s water was poisoned, but failed to implement any real action until January 5.
Since the change of water supply in April 2014, residents have had to contend with dirty brown tap water unsuitable for drinking. Most have been forced to boil water or switch to bottled water.
Despite the concerns of residents in the weeks following the switch, then-Flint Mayor Dayne Walling, a former Rhodes scholar, insisted it was a “safe product” and that “people are wasting their precious money buying bottled water.”
Walling lost to Karen Weaver in his bid for re-election in November, a result which saw her become the city’s first female mayor.
Four months after the switch of supplies, residents were officially issued a boil notice after fecal bacteria was found in the supply.
General Motors, a major Flint employer featured in Michael Moore’s groundbreaking documentary Roger & Me, announced they would no longer use the water due to corrosion concerns.
But it was not until October 2015 that officials declared a public health emergency telling residents not to drink the water without an approved filter due to lead contamination.
Snyder responded to the emergency by investing $1 million in water filters for the city to reduce the lead, followed shortly by an announcement that they would reconnect to the original Lake Huron water supply.
Adults have already reported high-blood pressure and even blindness due to the lead, but it can take years for certain problems to manifest in children, particularly learning disabilities and cognitive impairments.