To add injury to insult, it has taken Governor Snyder two years to respond to the crises
Government, at its most basic level, exists to protect its citizens. But what happens when the government is the very actor that caused the harm? In the Flint water crisis the State Government stepped in to declare a financial emergency in order to remove Flint’s duly elected officials and replace them with an emergency manager appointed by the Governor.
This EM was given complete control and answered only to the Governor. What followed this appointment was the poisoning of thousands of people, the immediate deaths of ten people, and thousands of homes without a safe, usable water supply.
The emergency manager was charged with steering a financially trouble city or township out of the red and setting it on a path to financial stability. Nothing was off the table including the selling off of city assets, breaking union contracts, and reorganizing the government.
Flint’s EM decided that one way to save money was for the City to use the Flint River, declared one of Michigan’s dirtiest rivers in 2012, for its water supply. Prior to this Flint had been receiving its water from Detroit. The switch was expected to save roughly $5 million dollars. In addition, the EM sold the supply pipeline to a private company preventing Flint from immediately switching back to Detroit water if anything went wrong.
Timeline of a Crisis
The water supply was switched to the Flint River on April 17, 2014. Almost immediately, the residents and businesses in Flint began to experience problems with the water supply. In October, GM reported that the Flint water was too corrosive for its engine parts. After GM announced it would make arrangements to get its water from another source Flint officials went on the defensive declaring the water safe to drink. In other words safe to drink but not good enough for GMs car parts.
In January 2015, Flint residents began questioning whether the water was safe for consumption and questioning if they were being told the truth by Flint officials. After a “string of water advisories, along with complaints of discolored, smelly water flowing from home faucets Flint residents received a notice that their water system violated the Safe Water Drinking Act.”
The violation was caused by a higher than acceptable level of trihalomethane or THM, which is a byproduct of the chlorination process. THM is “linked to cancer and other health problems.” There is still no response by state or local officials to the concerns raised by Flint residents.
Lead poisoning, according to the EPA website, “can affect almost every organ and system in your body. Children six years old and younger are most susceptible … Even low levels of lead in the blood of children can result in: behavior and learning problems; lower IQ and hyperactivity; slowed growth; and hearing problems.”
Independent tests in some Flint homes showed lead levels of 13,200 parts per billion, “more than twice the amount at which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies water as hazardous waste.” In September 2015, testing by a local hospital began to detect spiking lead levels in children… There is still no official response.
It was not until January of this year that a state of emergency was declared by Governor Snyder (R), almost two years after the crisis began. It has just recently been reported that cases of legionnaire’s disease have spiked in Flint resulting in 10 deaths. The Governor was quick to deny any link to the crisis but it is hard to believe this is just an unfortunate coincidence whose timing exactly follows the timeline laid out in the water crisis.
While a federal investigation has been launched it is unlikely that any criminal charges will be filed against the Governor or any other government official. They will most likely be immune to prosecution. If a private company’s actions poisoned almost one hundred thousand people, killed at least 10 people (possibly more) and tried like hell to cover it up you can bet the government would be calling for heads to roll. Just look at the recent government response to GM, Toyota and Chipotle.
Typically when a natural or man-made disaster occurs the response is swift, often happening within days or even hours: State and/or Federal officials declare a state of emergency, disaster assistance teams move into the area and funding is made available to assist those affected. But when the disaster is created by the government the concern is about putting the politically correct spin on the event and denying culpability. Where Flint is concerned the response took almost 2 years. If the national media had not picked up the story the residents of Flint would probably still be waiting for assistance.