It was a scandal which affected thousands of people, and it was one which rocked a city to its core. In April 2014, the water in Flint, Michigan became contaminated with high levels of lead. It was a result of the city’s supply being changed from the clean water of Lake Huron to the Flint River. Not enough preparations were made for the change and the rusty pipes brought contaminated water into the homes of approximately 97,000 people. The event would show poor handling of the situation by the Republican Governor of Michigan Rick Snyder and later President Barack Obama.
Flint was once the thriving hub of General Motors. However, when GM downsized in the 1980s, the city slumped into industrial decline. The state of Michigan took over the financial situation in Flint in 2011.
Three years later history was made when Flint’s water supply from Detroit was stopped. It ended a 50-year reliance on Flints neighbour to the south, and it also set the wheels in motion for one of the biggest scandals ever in regional American politics.
To make up for the shortfall in water, a new pipe was constructed to bring water from Lake Huron into Flint. It was the water used during this period from the Flint River which led to the sickness and deaths of the city’s residents.
The unclean water had been pouring into the city for four months before the authorities acted. In August 2014 faecal coliform bacterium was found to be in the water, prompting a boil water action for one neighbourhood within Flint.
This action was ended on 20 August, six days later, but on 5 September a further boil water action was issued when coliform bacterium was found in the water; a bacterium which could mean e coli is present in water.
In October, the GM plant in Flint raised concerns about the amount of corrosion being caused to car parts as a result of using water from the river. It then strikes up a deal to restart using water from Lake Huron. It cost the city $400,000, but the source of drinking water for the people of the city remained the Flint river.
As more residents reported irregularities with their tap water, with many becoming sick after drinking the water, Flint City council voted 7–1 in favour of switching back to water from Detroit on 23 March 2015.
However, the state-appointed emergency manager Jerry Ambrose overruled the decision, calling it “incomprehensible,” claiming that costs would skyrocket and that “water from Detroit is no safer than water from Flint.” Of course, it wasn’t an issue for one of the biggest employer in the city to switch at a cost of nearly half a million dollars.
Anger amongst the people of the city grew, and in November 2015 citizens filed a lawsuit against several state officials, including Governor Snyder, for knowingly exposing Flint to infected water. In January 2016, Snyder declared a state of emergency.
In the same month he wrote to President Obama asking to declare a major disaster in Flint and that an estimated $55 million is needed to fix the pipes. The President rejects this, and instead sent $5 million in aid and the Federal Emergency Management Agency moved in to assist.
Michael Moore depicts what happened when President Obama visited Flint on 4 May 2016 in his documentary ‘Fahrenheit 11/9. The people eagerly anticipate the visit of the President but were left bitterly disappointed.
Obama came, gave a speech and then carried out what was little more than a PR stunt by appearing to drink a glass of water. It was a move which broke the hearts of thousands in Flint and made it out that there wasn’t an emergency within the city.
They were made to feel as though they were unimportant, even though dozens had become sick with legionnaire’s disease, with 12 people dying, as a result of drinking the contaminated water.
Flint was an example of the corruption at the top of a state government and the blatant prioritising of profit over people. The dirty water wasn’t acceptable for use at the GM factory, yet it was fine to pump into the houses of thousands of innocent, hard working citizens, many of whom struggle to make a living.
As of April 2020, thousands of water pipes ad been assessed, with almost 10,000 being replaced. However, for many in Flint, the damage had already been done.