Flint, Michigan, the city portrayed as the embodiment of a rust belt city abandoned by deindustrialization in Michael Moore’s allegorical documentary, Roger & Me, has recently become a morality play of a different sort as it captures national headlines highlighting a controversial series of decisions creating a major public health crisis that threatens the health of Flint’s children.
After numerous complaints of the rising costs of the City of Detroit’s water and sewerage system, which the city had been dependent on for decades, the City of Flint’s controversial, non-elected, state appointed emergency manager decided in 2013 to switch from Detroit’s water system, and obtain water for the city from the Flint River until an alternative source could be developed. The decision insured, if nothing else, that banks and bondholders to which the city is indebted, would be paid.
The decision ended up being a tragic mistake of major proportions. After the switch was made in April 2014 problems soon developed because the Flint River’s water proved to be highly corrosive, releasing lead from the old plumbing fixtures in Flint’s homes, factories, and schools. The water was so corrosive that the local GM engine plantswitched their plant’s water system to another supplier because the automaker was concerned that the Flint River water would corrode their auto parts.
Tragically, the situation could have been avoided if the state had followed the EPA mandate to install corrosive preventative measures when lead levels in drinking water exceed recommended levels. State officials further undermined the state’s integrity and the public’s confidence by claiming they were not required to install mandatory corrosive controls.
As lead levels rapidly rose to levels far exceeding the U.S. EPA’s recommended lead levels in public drinking water, Flint residents complained of malodorous, darkly colored water flowing from their home faucets, hair loss, headaches, and itchy eyes.
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