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What’s Really Happening in Flint, Michigan?

One day, Melissa Mays, 37-year-old mother of four, turned on the tap to pour her children a glass of water. She was shocked to see that it was tinted brown. The next day it was orange. Some concerned citizens of Flint, Michigan asserted that the water, appearing in various shades ranging from green to yellow, smelled like gasoline; others remarked that it smelled “fishy,” both literally and figuratively.

Complaints and letters were mailed, then protests and rallies staged. For almost nineteen months, officials reassured the city of Flint not to worry and a spokesman for the state’s top environmental regulator told everyone to “relax.” Meanwhile, adults such as Carolyn Doshie developed bloody skin lesions, children were diagnosed with anemia, and nearly everyone suffered from various ailments – from rashes and respiratory problems, to hair loss and seizures.

It all began with a policy proposal to begin drawing water from the Flint River, instead of buying treated water from Detroit’s Lake Huron, in an effort to save money. April 15, 2014, was the day Flint mayor Dayne Walling flipped the switch, redirecting water from Flint River into thousands of homes.

Since then water samples have tested positive for total coliform bacteria, E. coli, and dozens of other deadly pathogens. For example, Janet Stout, a national expert in Legionnaire’s disease, announced that the recent drastic spike in Legionnaire’s that killed dozens of people was due to high levels of the Legionella bacteria in the water.

However, the most serious effect of the tainted water is lead poisoning. An external research team from Virginia Tech found that lead levels in Flint tap water are currently sixteen times the allowed limit due to the high corrosiveness of the Flint River water; the water was literally eating away at the pipes in Flint, leaching lead into the water supply. The short term effects of lead poisoning include a litany of symptoms, like something you would hear in the disclaimer for a prescription drug: irritability, loss of appetite, weight loss, fatigue, abdominal pain, vomiting, constipation, rashes, hair loss, infections, lung problems… The list goes on.

The real danger, however, lies in the long-term effects that high concentrations of lead have on children. Years from now, long

Lead pipes corroded by Flint’s contaminated water.

after Flint’s water crisis has passed, the impacts of lead poisoning on this generation will continue to be felt. Concerned parents will watch as the children of Flint endure developmental problems, learning disabilities, antisocial behavior, reproductive failure, and anemia. Right now, there are over 200 children under the age of six officially diagnosed with “elevated blood lead levels,” but this number doesn’t account for pregnant women drinking Flint’s water, children not currently in Flint, or simply undiagnosed children: there were over 8,000 children exposed to the contaminated water.

Understandably this has been a massive controversy, sparking backlash against Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. Snyder released a statement, saying “I’m sorry and I will fix it” and that the “government failed you at the federal, state, and local level,” but this apology is undercut by the fact that hundreds of pages of emails were released on January 20th in which he openly dismissed warnings from the EPA and other groups. This begs the question: if a similar catastrophe were to occur in California, would our state officials also dismiss our well-being?

Seeking an explanation for the impotence of legal supplication, some groups have accused officials of racism, as the population of Flint is 52% African American. Residents are holding rallies and demonstrations, angrily displaying jugs of murky, brown water. Several families have filed lawsuits against various officials, and angry crowds assembled in front of Snyder’s apartment in the brutal 12-degree weather to demand his resignation and arrest.

But everyone can agree on one thing: regardless of who was responsible, conditions in Flint, Michigan are worse than ever. Obama declared a federal state of emergency on January 16, and the National Guard has been mobilized to distribute bottled water and water filters.

So how can we at CPS in Oakland, California help, you ask? You can donate to the Flint Water Response Team, which has a list of places at which you can volunteer, the UWGC, which purchases filters and bottled water, the Flint Child Health and Development Fund, which delivers critical supplies, or this fundraiser started by a Flint resident. If you don’t want to donate money (or fly to Michigan to volunteer with the Red Cross), you can take 30 seconds and sign a petition on to put even more pressure on Governor Snyder to fulfill his promise and alleviate the terrible water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

California, too, is enduring a water crisis of its own. “How can this be?” you protest. “I was just doing a workout in the rain yesterday!” Yes, El Niño is providing 2-4 inches of rainfall this week, and 6-10 along some mountain ranges, but this isn’t even going to dent the historic drought we’re in. A study from the University of Minnesota and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute using PDSI data drawn from tree-ring observations reveals that California’s current drought is the worst in at least 1,200 years. Despite this, most of us currently still have access to safe, clean drinking water. The same can’t be said for the city in crisis: Flint, Michigan.


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