Home Social Justice Featured Blog: The Flint Water Crisis, inequality and negligence

Featured Blog: The Flint Water Crisis, inequality and negligence

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Last month, news broke of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. The events leading up to the crisis can be simplified by saying that in 2014, the city of Flint switched its water supply from the city of Detroit to the Flint River as the result of a financial crisis.

The water from the Flint River is corrosive and caused old pipes throughout the city to corrode and resulted in lead leaking into the water supply. Soon after the change, residents of Flint began complaining to local officials that the water had changed both in smell and taste.

Instead of taking these concerns seriously, the government ignored residents, even when clues of the problem began to emerge more apparently. These clues included high levels of lead being detected as early as April 2015, and General Motors Co. ceasing to purchase water from Flint after it began corroding car parts. For me, the decision from GM, a huge corporation, to choose not to purchase the cheaper water because it was ruining equipment should have been the biggest red flag for the government. However, the government blatantly chose to ignore this issue simply because it could.

As Hillary Clinton put it, “We have had a city in the United States of America where the population, which is poor in many ways and majority African-American, has been drinking and bathing in lead-contaminated water. And the governor of that state acted as though he didn’t really care.”

In other words, because the population of Flint is marginalized, the government took advantage of the situation and did what was financially beneficial for the government. As one protester wrote on a poster, “I’ve been poisoned by policy.”

When I first heard of the news in Flint, I had several thoughts, but there are two questions that continue to haunt me now: Are other water supplies (especially those in marginalized communities) at risk due to government oversight, and where is the line between public safety and profit?

My answer to the first question is yes, probably. Recently, a local news station in Pittsburgh, my hometown, ran a story about high lead levels being seen in children from dozens of cities, including Pittsburgh. Though the article says lead-based paints and not just water can cause lead poisoning, it brings up a new concern for people and cities across the nation. For the first time, they are thinking about what hidden dangers could poison their children and drinking water supply.

The answer to the second question remains to be debated. But after reading many news sources (domestic and abroad) that reported on Flint, I think the United States government needs to think long and hard about the answer because Flint was a huge embarrassment that should not be repeated.

As Adam Wernick, a reporter for Public Radio International, said, “The drinking-water disaster in Flint, Michigan, occurred not just as a result of mistakes and bad decision-making  — it was the result of lies, falsified science and a deliberate cover-up.”

Hopefully, the tragedy in Flint becomes an example that leads to stricter water safety regulations, which promote human welfare over profit.

Sophomore Annalycia Liston-Beck and Junior Alena Klimas also contribute to this featured blog, “Critical International Media Perspectives.”

 

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