‘How many more Flints out there?’ Scientists concerned over official neglect
As the Senate considers funding to repair the water supply in Flint, Michigan and other US cities, new revelations of official neglect that led to lead poisoning have surfaces. Scientists who discovered the problem have little faith in the authorities.
Emails released by Governor Rick Snyder’s office show that top aides urged switching Flint back to Detroit’s water system in October 2014, after General Motors complained that the city’s heavily chlorinated water from the Flint River was corroding their engine parts. The switch to Flint River took place in April that year, and was ordered by the city’s state-appointed emergency manager as a cost-cutting measure.
The governor’s chief legal counsel Mike Gadola and Snyder’s environmental policy adviser Valerie Brader both urged the change, but no action was taken, Detroit News reported.
Flint switched back to Detroit water in mid-October 2015, after doctors and scientists warned the public about dangerously high levels of lead in the water supply. The contamination occurred as the Flint River water combined with chloride disinfectants and corroded the untreated lead pipes in the city’s system.
Federal, state and local officials are still arguing over who is responsible for the disaster that befell Flint. When a team of physicians and researchers first warned of the lead contamination, they were rebuffed by the state, said Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician at the Hurley Medical Center in Flint.
“When the state tells you you’re wrong,” Hanna-Atisha told RT, “it’s hard not to get physically ill.” For about two hours, her team second-guessed their work. “We regrouped, because the numbers didn’t lie. Everything was consistent. So we fought back.”
Confronting the government was difficult and challenging, but necessary. “It doesn’t matter if it’s hard, if it’s the right thing to do,” she said. “This is my job as a pediatrician, to protect these kids.”
Lead poisoning is a known cause of developmental problems in children, and Hanna-Atisha said she and her colleagues will devote all of their resources over the next two decades to ensure that the children affected by the contamination overcome its effects.
“It seems like the water is getting better, but the people have a long way to go in terms of their healing,” she said. One good thing that came out of the Flint crisis is an increased awareness of danger posed by lead in the water, and the need for increased monitoring. “We need more transparency,” said Hanna-Atisha.
Flint’s water troubles go beyond lead contamination, however. Between May 2014 and November 2015, 87 people were infected by Legionella, a bacterium causing a deadly respiratory disease. Nine of them have died. Yet the city’s water supply has yet to be tested for the presence of Legionella, despite the urging of multiple experts, Detroit News reported.
Marc Edwards, the Virginia Tech professor who helped expose the Flint water crisis, is not surprised. He reminded RT of lead poisoning in the Washington, DC water supply in 2003, for which no federal official was ever punished. Edwards blames the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for that disaster, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for helping cover it up.
“The DC lead crisis was thirty times worse, at least, in terms of harm done, compared to Flint,” Edwards told RT, yet the affected children in the District of Columbia have not seen a penny from the federal authorities. The two whistleblowers who tried to bring the case to light were fired.
“Without DC, you wouldn’t have had a Flint. The way this was covered up, and we never held the agencies accountable, another DC was inevitable,” Edwards said.
Even as the Michigan National Guard was handing out water bottles and treatment instructions to Flint residents, the EPA and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) were saying that the federal water rules had not been broken.
“These are the people paid to protect us, and they are actually working to poison us. It’s not just that the emperor has no clothes – the emperor is poisoning little kids!” Edwards said. “It raises the question: How many more Flints are out there?”
To help the nearly bankrupt Michigan city replace the damaged pipes, the federal government is offering a loan package. A Senate bill with bipartisan support would offer $70 million in credit subsidies for water infrastructure projects, $100 million in subsidized loans and grants to states with water problems, and $50 million for public health programs.
Under the proposal, introduced by Michigan Democrats Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, the funding would come from revoking $250 million in loan credits to automobile companies for improving fuel economy.
“These programs provide low-interest loans to the states, local governments and other water suppliers to help address critical water infrastructure needs, and when the loan is paid back, more communities can receive funding,” said Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Several senators have put a hold on the bill, however, so its future appears uncertain.