Flint Water Poisoning Was Covered Up Using ‘Science’ to Mislead the Public While Children Were Being Destroye
It is turning out to be one of the biggest environmental scandals in modern history, complete with intrigue, suspense, political chicanery and even murder.
For nearly a year-and-a-half, officials in Flint, Michigan, along with state and federal environmental officials, covered up the fact that water tainted with grossly high levels of lead was being consumed by mostly poor, African-American residents – many with children who are now at risk of lead poisoning and lasting health problems.
The crisis began in April 2014, after city officials decided, in an effort to save money, to change the city’s water source from water treated by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (which came from Lake Huron as well as the Detroit River), to the polluted Flint River. At the same time, city water and environmental officials neglected to apply corrosion inhibitors, allowing dangerous amounts of lead to leach into the supply due to the highly corrosive water in the Flint River.
The leaching exposed an estimated 6,000–12,000 children to potential lead poisoning. Because the water source was changed, the percentage of Flint children with high levels of lead in their blood may have risen from about 2.4 percent in 2013, to as much as 4.9 percent in 2015, according to one study. In addition, some think that the poor water quality may also be responsible for an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease in the county, which has killed at least 10 people and affected dozens of others.
It should be noted that after Flint decided to switch to the Flint River from its back-up, residents began calling the city to complain about water color, taste and odor. Officials issued boil-water advisories after coliform bacteria was detected in August and September 2014. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, in an October 2014 statement, blamed cold weather, aging pipes and a population decline. One DEQ official, Stephen Busch, said that the city had taken appropriate actions to limit a recurrence of problems. The first real evidence that the water was corrosive came from officials with the General Motors plant in Flint, who reported that the water was corroding automobile parts. The plant stopped using Flint water in October 2014.
A few months earlier, in August, a water test had showed that it contained high levels of THMs (Trihalomethanes), which are a chlorine byproduct of disinfecting water, a substance that has been linked to cancer and other diseases after long-term exposure. Follow-on testing in November showed unsafe THM levels in one of eight locations, but based on the August test results the DEQ put the city in violation. However, residents of Flint were not notified until the following January.
Nevertheless, city and state officials continued to insist that the water was safe, though residents around the city as well as employees of the Flint Public Library kept complaining that their water was undrinkable, after noticing that water from faucets and in toilets was discolored. The library was forced to contract with an outside water supply company, Absopure, to bring in water coolers for the public and library staff in order to provide clean water for drinking.
But the scandal didn’t end there. In fact, for about 18 months residents of Flint were poisoned with lead-tainted water, despite the fact that the federal EPA knew about the problems and risks.
Since then, two people associated with the scandal – a water treatment plant foreman who could have testified against Flint officials, and a young lady who spearheaded the lawsuit against government officials over their roles in the scandal – have been found dead.
Three government officials – two in Flint, and one state environmental employee – have been charged by the Michigan Attorney General’s office, but on the federal level, as usual, no EPA officials have been similarly charged or held accountable.
Without full accountability, however, you can bet that as more American cities disintegrate financially, new environmental scandals will surface.