Flint’s Fight

Flint Michigan discovers lead in its water.

Flint's citizens avoid consuming tainted water.

Sarah Rice for The New York Times

Flint’s citizens avoid consuming tainted water.

Grace Sullivan

Over the past couple of weeks, a drama has played out in Flint, Michigan where lead was discovered in the municipality’s drinking water. The story begins three years ago when austerity minded governor, Rick Snyder, appointed emergency managers for Flint and other low income municipalities. These appointed leaders were given extraordinary amounts of power despite the fact that they had not been democratically elected.

In April, 2014, the Flint emergency manager sought to save money by ending the city’s contract to buy water from Detroit. Instead, the city began drawing its water supply from the infamously unclean Flint River. When residents turned on their taps, brown, smelly water flowed into their homes. As citizens complained that this water not only looked revolting but also tasted weird, the government ignored them. Even as people were advised to boil their water before consuming it, the Department of Environmental Quality for Michigan claimed that the water met standards. The mayor even went as far as to drink a glass of brown water on television in order to prove that it was safe.

However, complaints continued to pour in as residents and doctors discover increased rates of rashes, hair loss, and other strange symptoms. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a Muslim American pediatrician, raised alarms when she observed that the lead levels in the blood of the toddlers in her care had doubled or even tripled. In mid-2015, Marc Edwards, a professor at Virginia Tech, brought a research team to Flint to investigate lead corrosion. His findings supported the growing fear that the water contained lead. And when Miguel Del Toral, representative from the Environmental Protection Agency, began making accusations, the E.P.A delayed the release of his report for five months.

The public has been incensed to discover that for nearly a year, as the government insisted that the water was safe, it has contained dangerous lead. While water plant officials claimed that they had tested the water, it seems evident that they did not. This case shows the results of forgoing democratic accountability and the harms of reducing public budgets without consideration for whom they affect. Unfortunately, these issues of bureaucracy are not unique to Flint. Too frequently, infrastructure, safety regulation, and low income citizens are neglected by bureaucrats. In this case, this corruption has placed the people of Flint and its surrounding areas in great danger.