Flint water crisis facts for kids
|Time||April 2014– present|
|Location||Flint, Michigan, United States|
|Participants||Residents of Flint, Michigan|
The Flint water crisis began in 2014 when the Flint River became the drinking water source for the city of Flint, Michigan. Due to insufficient water treatment, over 100,000 residents were potentially exposed to high levels of lead in the drinking water. A federal state of emergency was declared in January 2016 and Flint residents were instructed to use only bottle or filtered water for drinking and bathing. As of early 2017, the water quality had returned to acceptable levels, however residents were instructed to continue to use bottled or filtered water until all the lead pipes have been replaced, which is expected to be completed no sooner than 2019.
- Early water contamination
- Lead exposure findings
- Possible link to Legionnaires' disease spike
- Inquiries, investigations, resignations, and release of documents
- Costs of infrastructure repairs and medical treatment
- Political responses
- Other responses
- Donations of water and money
- In popular culture
The Flint water crisis is an ongoing drinking water contamination issue in Flint, Michigan, United States, that started in April 2014. After Flint changed its water source from treated Detroit Water and Sewerage Department water (which was sourced from Lake Huron as well as the Detroit River) to the Flint River (to which officials had failed to apply corrosion inhibitors), its drinking water had a series of problems that culminated with lead contamination, creating a serious public health danger. The Flint River water that was treated improperly caused lead from aging pipes to leach into the water supply, causing extremely elevated levels of the heavy metal neurotoxin. In Flint, between 6,000 and 12,000 children have been exposed to drinking water with high levels of lead and they may experience a range of serious health problems. Due to the change in water source, the percentage of Flint children with elevated blood-lead levels may have risen from about 2.5% in 2013 to as much as 5% in 2015. The water change is also a possible cause of an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in the county that has killed 10 people and affected another 77.
Several lawsuits have been filed against government officials on the issue, and several investigations have been opened. On January 5, 2016, the city was declared to be in a state of emergency by the Governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, before President Barack Obama declared it to be in a federal state of emergency, authorizing additional help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security less than two weeks later.
Four government officials — one from the City of Flint, two from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), and one from the Environmental Protection Agency — resigned over the mishandling of the crisis, and one additional MDEQ staff member was fired. There has also been thirteen criminal cases filed against local and state officials in regards to the crisis.
Governor Snyder issued an apology to the citizens and promised to fix the problem, and then sent $28 million to Flint for supplies, medical care, and infrastructure upgrades, and later budgeted an additional $30 million to Flint that will give water bill credits of 65% for residents and 20% for businesses. Another $165 million for lead pipe replacements and water bill reimbursements was approved by Governor Snyder on June 29, 2016. A $170 million stopgap spending bill for repairing and upgrading the city of Flint's water system and helping with healthcare costs was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on December 8, 2016. The Senate approved it the next day. $100 million of the bill is for infrastructure repairs, $50 million for healthcare costs, and $20 million to pay back loans related to the crisis. On January 6, 2017, Governor Snyder signed a bill that accelerates the public notice requirement for lead in drinking water to 3 business days, from the previous time of 30 days.
On January 24, 2017 the MDEQ told Flint Mayor Karen Weaver that Flint water has fallen below federal lead limit. The 90th percentile of lead concentrations in Flint was 12 parts per billion from July 2016 through December 2016—below the "action level" of 15 ppb. It was 20 ppb in the prior six-month period. On the next day, Flint Spokeswoman Kristin Moore said anywhere from 18,000 to 28,000 homes in the city still need service lines replaced, and the city is planning to complete 6,000 homes per year through 2019.
On March 7, 2017, it was reported Flint water sampled by the state in February 2017 registered below the federal threshold for lead with 90 percent of samples at or below 8 parts per billion, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality says. The MDEQ said February's water tests mark the seventh straight month in which city water was below the 15 ppb level enforced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. February's testing also showed 95.8 percent of samples taken at homes at risk of high lead levels were at or below 15 ppb.
Condensed timeline of the crisis
The sequence of events of the Flint water crisis.
- 2007-2013 – Officials for the City of Flint formulate a plan to use the Flint River as a backup emergency water source.
- March 22, 2012 – County officials announce plans for a new pipeline to reduce costs by delivering water from Lake Huron to Flint
- April 16, 2013 – The city terminates its water service contract with the city of Detroit and the switch to the Flint River is to be effective in April 2014.
- April 21, 2014 – After construction delays, the water source switch to the Flint River is completed.
- August 14, 2014 – The city announces a water boiling advisory for parts of the city. The advisory is lifted on August 20. A second warning is issued in September.
- October 2014 – Flint’s General Motors Flint Truck Assembly plant discontinues using Flint tap water due to corroding engine parts from high levels of chlorine.
- January 12, 2015 – City officials decline an offer to reconnect to Lake Huron water, concerned of higher water rates.
- January 21, 2015 – Flint residents complain of health issues caused by city water. Residents bring bottles of discolored tap water to a community meeting.
- February 26, 2015 – EPA manager Miquel Del Toral detects that lead levels in the water at the home of Flint resident Lee-Anne Walters is seven times greater than the EPA's acceptable limit.
- March 23, 2015 – Flint City Council members vote to reconnect with Detroit water. Emergency manager Jerry Ambrose overrules the vote.
- June 24, 2015 – EPA manager Miquel Del Toral states in a memo that Virginia Tech scientists, led by water expert Dr. Marc Edwards, found extremely high lead levels in four homes.
- July 9, 2015 – Flint Mayor Dayne Walling drinks Flint tap water on local television in an attempt to dispel residents’ fear of drinking the water.
- July 13, 2015 – In response to Del Toral's memo, a Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) official tells Michigan Public Radio, “Anyone who is concerned about lead in the drinking water in Flint can relax.”
- September 8, 2015 – Virginia Tech’s water study team reports that 40% of Flint homes have elevated levels of lead.
- September 9, 2015 – MDEQ spokesman Brad Wurfel states that Flint needs to upgrade its infrastructure but is skeptical about Virginia Tech’s water study.
- September 11, 2015 – Virginia Tech recommends that the state of Michigan declare that the water in Flint is not safe for drinking or cooking.
- September 24, 2015 – Hurley Medical Center pediatrician Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha releases study showing increased number of children with high lead-blood levels after water switch.
- October 15, 2015 – Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signs a bill for $9.35 million to re-connect to Detroit water and provide relief. The switch is made the following day.
- December 14, 2015 – Flint Mayor Karen Weaver declares a state of emergency.
- December 29, 2015 – MDEQ Director Dan Wyant resigns.
- January 5, 2016 – Governor Snyder declares a state of emergency in Genesee County.
- January 12, 2016 – The Michigan National Guard is mobilized to help distribute water in Flint.
- January 13, 2016 – Governor Snyder announces an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease occurred in the Flint area between June, 2014 and November, 2015.
- January 14, 2016 – Governor Snyder asks President Barack Obama to declare a disaster in Flint.
- January 16, 2016 – President Obama declares a state of emergency in Flint and authorizes $5 million in aid.
- February 3, 2016 – The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform holds a hearing on the Flint water crisis.
- February 8, 2016 – Governor Snyder turns down a second invitation to testify at congressional hearing on the crisis.
- March 17, 2016 – Governor Snyder testifies before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
- April 20, 2016 – Criminal charges are filed against government employees: Mike Glasgow, Stephen Busch, and Mike Prysby.
- May 4, 2016 – President Obama visits Flint.
- July 29, 2016 – Six state workers are criminally charged, as investigations continue.
- December 20, 2016 – Four officials are charged with felonies of false pretenses and conspiracy.
- January 24, 2017 – The MDEQ declares the city’s water tested below the federal limit in a six-month long study.
- February 8, 2017 - State official, Richard Baird informs Flint residents that the year long state water bill subsidy will end, effective March 1, 2017.
- February 16, 2017 - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds first genetic link from Legionnaires' disease to Flint's water supply.
- February 20, 2017 - State considers ending bottled water distribution in the City of Flint.
- March 1, 2017 - State officially ends water bill subsidies for residents of Flint.
- March 15, 2017 - President Trump meets with Flint Mayor Karen Weaver to discuss infrastructure funding for Flint.
- March 16, 2017: Governor Snyder creates the Child Lead Exposure Elimination Commission to help prevent a similar crisis in the future.
Some water service lines in Flint were installed between 1901 and 1920. As with many other municipalities at the time, all of the service lines from the cast iron water mains to end users' homes were constructed of lead, because it was relatively inexpensive and easy to work. Lead pipes can leach lead into the water, especially if certain contaminants are present. However, the water from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, where Flint had obtained its water since 1967, had been treated well enough that the leaching from the lead pipes was at levels considered acceptable by state and federal environmental protection agencies. There are an estimated 43,000 service lines in the city; these include 3,500 lead lines, 9,000 known galvanized lines, and 9,000 unknown service lines.
Lead exposure across the U.S. has fallen dramatically since the 1980s, but no blood-lead level is considered completely safe. Children under age five, and especially infants and unborn children, bear the greatest risk of deleterious and irreversible health outcomes. From 2012 to 2016, the CDC set a "reference level" of 5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL), in order to target for case management the 2.5% of young American children with the highest blood-lead levels. At 45 µg/dL, chelation therapy is considered. Among the many ways lead can enter a modern American's bloodstream is through lead plumbing. Acidic water makes it easier for the lead found in pipes, leaded solder, and brass faucets to dissolve and to enter a home's drinking water. Therefore, public water treatment systems are legally required to use control measures to make water less acidic. Plumbing that contains lead is often found in buildings constructed in the 1980s and earlier.
Between 2011 and 2015, Flint was in receivership, with city finances controlled by a series of four emergency managers appointed by Governor Snyder. The city continued in receivership, but under the lesser oversight of a Receivership Transition Advisory Board.
Switching to a new water source
Starting in 2011, Genesee County had spearheaded the development of the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA) to supply it and Lapeer and Sanilac counties—plus the cities of Lapeer and Flint—with water. On March 25, 2013, the Flint City Council voted 7-1 to approve future purchases of 16 million gallons per day from the KWA rather than using Flint River water as a permanent supply. The council had been informed that KWA's new water supply from Lake Huron (a bored tunnel) could be dug in 30 months. Flint emergency manager (EM) Ed Kurtz and Mayor Dayne Walling approved the action on March 29 and forwarded the action for the State Treasurer to approve.
Upon learning of this decision, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) pleaded with Flint officials to reconsider and offered to restructure water payments. Flint refused, insisting that KWA provided their best water supply option. DWSD argued that Flint was in no position to spend more money on a new water system, when the existing one through Lake Huron was efficient, and again offered to restructure payment plans.
On April 1, 2013, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) sent out a press release demanding that the state should block Flint's request as it would hurt the DWSD and start a water war. The release also put out several options for Flint, including the sale of raw, untreated water. Genesee County Drain Commissioner Wright, after accusing the DWSD of negotiating through the media, replied, "It would be unprecedented for the state to force one community to enter into an agreement with another, simply to artificially help one community at the other's expense[...] This is exactly what the (Detroit Water and Sewerage Department) is arguing should be done."
On April 15, 2013, State Treasurer Andy Dillon gave approval to Kurtz to enter into a water purchase contract with the KWA. EM Kurtz signed the KWA water purchase agreement on April 16. On April 17, the Detroit Water and Sewer Department gave its one-year termination notice to the city just days after the County and City rejected the DWSD's last offer. The DWSD also expected that Flint would pay them for past investments in the water system that benefited regional customers; Flint and Genesee County rejected such responsibility, although they indicated a willingness to purchase some pipeline. Governor Rick Snyder called a meeting of the three parties for April 19 to discuss those and other issues related to the KWA project.
In late April 2014, in an effort to save about $5 million over fewer than two years, the city switched from purchasing treated Lake Huron water from Detroit, as it had done for 50 years, to treating water from the Flint River. The Flint River had been the designated back-up water source for years. Flint emergency manager Darnell Earley finalized the sale in June, 2014 of an Eastern Genesee County nine-mile section of water pipeline to Genesee County for $3.9 million. This pipeline fed Detroit water to the county and after the Huron pipeline was active would service the eastern part of the county. By December, 2014, the city had invested $4 million into its water plant. On July 1, 2014, Mayor Dayne Walling was given operating authority over two city departments, including Public Works, by Flint emergency manager Darnell Earley.
Early water contamination
After the April 25, 2014 switch to Flint River water from back-up to temporary primary source, city residents began complaining about their water's color, taste, and odor. Boil-water advisories were issued by the city due to coliform bacteria detection in August and September 2014. Cold weather, aging pipes and a population decline were considered the cause by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality in an October 2014 statement. A DEQ district supervisor, Stephen Busch, indicated that the city took appropriate action to limit a re-occurrence. The first complaint of water corrosion was made by a General Motors (GM) plant in Flint, indicating that the water was corroding car parts. GM stopped using Flint water in October 2014. GM asked permission from city officials to return to using the Detroit River instead of the Flint River and was allowed to do so.
On August 21, 2014 the city's water tested high for THMs, a chlorine byproduct of disinfecting water, with which long term exposure has been linked to cancer and other diseases. THM testing on November 20 showed only one location out of eight with unsafe levels. Based on the August test, the city was placed on violation notice by the DEQ and mailed on January 2, 2015 the requisite notice to city residents. Additional chlorine was added to eliminate the bacteria detected in August and September 2014 which is the likely cause of the spike in THMs.
Though the city stated that the water was safe, the employees of the Flint Public Library declared the water undrinkable after noticing that the water from the faucets and toilets was discolored. The library contracted with the state's most prominent bottled water provider, Plymouth-based Absopure, to bring in water coolers for both the public and staff areas and have been providing clean drinking water there at the library since August 2014.
January and February 2015 testing showed the city water meeting all health and safety standards. Also in January, the Detroit water system offered to reconnect Flint and waive a $4 million connection fee; this proposal was declined by emergency manager Jerry Ambrose. DEQ officials indicated, in a February memo to Governor Rick Snyder, that there is no "imminent threat to public health" and that the nature of the problem was "communicated poorly."
Return to Detroit water
In March 2015, the Flint city council voted to "do all things necessary" to return to purchasing water from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. This vote followed complaints and a report by Veolia North America with recommendations to keep the city from further violation of THMs level of the Safe Drinking Water Act. Jerry Ambrose, the state appointed Flint emergency manager who controlled Flint finances, disagreed with the idea of again sourcing Flint water from Detroit. Ambrose stated, "Flint water today is safe by all Environmental Protection Agency and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality standards, and the city is working daily to improve its quality."
On March 2, 2016, it was reported that the state of Michigan included conditions requiring State approval for any return to the Detroit water system, when it agreed to grant the city an emergency loan of $7 million in April 2015.
In August 2015, three organizations, citing high lead levels, orange water and other problems, "delivered more than 26,000 online petition signatures to Mayor Dayne Walling, demanding the city end its use of the Flint River and reconnect to the Detroit water system".
It was discovered that the high levels of lead were due to orthophosphate being omitted from the water treatment process, while using a pH of 7.4, and that the orange water was due to the high concentration of chloride in the Flint River water, which caused excessive corrosion of the cast iron mains pipes.
On October 8, 2015, Snyder asked the Michigan Legislature to contribute $6 million of the $12 million in costs for Flint to return to Lake Huron water (from the newly created Great Lakes Water Authority), with the City of Flint paying $2 million and the Flint-based Charles Stewart Mott Foundation paying $4 million. State Senator Jim Ananich, who represents Flint, called for the state to refund the $2 million to the city; Ananich also requested further emergency funding from the state and a commitment to long-term funding to address the effects of the lead contamination.
On September 27, 2016, Flint officials announced the city will stay on Detroit water until at least October 2017 to give it time to construct a newly required stretch of pipeline and allow for testing of water Flint will treat from the KWA.
On December 9, 2016 the MDEQ reported more than 96 percent of water samples tested at high-risk Flint homes in November 2016 were below the federal lead threshold of 15 parts per billion.
On March 15, 2017, the Genesee County Water and Waste Services Advisory Board voted to construct a 7-mile, 42-inch connector to the Karegnondi Water Authority pipeline allowing it to start treating raw Lake Huron water later this year and making it possible for the city of Flint to continue buying pre-treated water from the Great Lake Water Authority for as long as it wants. The decision to build the line at a cost expected to be at least $12 million means Flint could remain a customer of the GLWA until at least 2019.
Lead exposure findings
- See also: Lead poisoning and Blood lead level
In January 2015, a public meeting was held, where citizens complained about the "bad water." Residents complained about the taste, smell, and appearance of the water for 18 months before a Flint physician found highly elevated blood lead levels in the children of Flint. During that time period, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality had insisted the water was safe to drink. A study by Virginia Tech researchers (see section below) determined that the river water, which, due to higher chloride concentration, is more corrosive than the lake water, was leaching lead from aging pipes. Dr. Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, an environmental toxicologist based in Ann Arbor, Michigan said this level of lead exposure is comparable with what the Iraqi people have experienced since the U.S. occupation in 2003. Savabieasfahani noted that lead is directly tied to weapons manufacturing, and a crisis of this magnitude is almost the equivalent of officials bombing the people of Flint since 2014.
While the local outcry about Flint water quality was growing in early 2015, Flint water officials filed papers with state regulators purporting to show that "tests at Flint's water treatment plant had detected no lead and testing in homes had registered lead at acceptable levels." The documents falsely claimed that the city had tested tap water from homes with lead service lines, and therefore the highest lead-poisoning risks; in reality, the city does not know the locations of lead service lines, which city officials acknowledged in November 2015 after the Flint Journal/MLive published an article revealing the practice, using documents obtained under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act. The Journal/MLive reported that the city had "disregarded federal rules requiring it to seek out homes with lead plumbing for testing, potentially leading the city and state to underestimate for months the extent of toxic lead leaching into Flint's tap water."
In a new report released March 1, 2016, 37 of the 423 recently tested sentinel sites had results above the 15 ppb limit. Eight of the samples exceeded 100 ppb. A recent study however showed that significantly more samples exceeded the 15 ppb limit in the voluntary or homeowner-driven sampling program whereby concerned citizens decided to acquire a testing kit and conduct sampling on their own (non-sentinel sites).
Hurley Medical Center study
On September 24, 2015, Hurley Medical Center in Flint released a study, led by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the program director for pediatric residency at Hurley Children's Hospital, confirming that the proportion of infants and children with elevated levels of lead in their blood had nearly doubled since the city switched from the Detroit water system to using the Flint River as its water source. Using hospital records, Hanna-Attisha found that a steep rise in blood-lead levels corresponded to the city's switch in water sources. The study was initially dismissed by Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) spokesman Brad Wurfel, who repeated a familiar refrain: "Repeated testing indicated the water tested within acceptable levels." Later, Wurfel apologized to Hanna-Attisha. The team's study appears in the February 2016 issue of American Journal of Public Health.
Hanna-Attisha's research found that the average proportion of Flint children with elevated blood-lead levels (above five micrograms per deciliter, or 5 × 10–6 grams per 100 milliliters of blood) rose from 2.4% (2013, before the change in water source) to 4.9% (2015, after the change in water source), and in some hotspot areas rose from 4% to 10.6%. Michigan Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program data agree an increase occurred, suggesting an increase from 2.2% of children (May 2013-April 2014) to 3.0% (May 2014-April 2015). Hanna-Attisha's data were taken from hospital laboratory records for children less than five years old. Hanna-Attisha's sample numbers were large, both for the pre-switch and post-switch time periods and for Flint children (1,473) and for children not exposed to Flint water (2,202). Elevated lead levels in children's blood was shown to be correlated with elevated lead levels in Flint water. Because lead screening is not completed for all children, such data may be skewed toward higher-risk children and thus overestimate lead exposure, especially in non–high-risk areas.
Hanna-Attisha and Flint resident LeeAnne Walters were awarded PEN America's Freedom of Expression Courage Award on May 16, 2016.
Virginia Tech water study
In September, 2015 a team from Virginia Tech arrived in Flint. Led by professor, Dr. Marc Edwards, an expert on municipal water quality, the team came to perform lead level testing on the Flint water supply, working under a National Science Foundation grant. Edwards had been contacted by Flint resident, Lee-Anne Walters, whose family suffered from extreme health problems, almost immediately following the switch to the Flint River water. Walters had attempted to act locally, but she was repeatedly ignored by city, state, and EPA officials. The study found that Flint water was "very corrosive" and "causing lead contamination in homes". It concluded in its report that "Flint River water leaches more lead from plumbing than does Detroit water. This is creating a public health threat in some Flint homes that have lead pipe or lead solder."
Edwards was shocked by the extent of the contamination, but even more so by the inaction of the proper authorities after being made well aware of the contamination. Edwards and his team found that at least a quarter of Flint households had levels of lead above the federal level of 15 parts per billion (ppb) and that in some homes, lead levels were at 13,200 ppb. Edwards said, "It was the injustice of it all and that the very agencies that are paid to protect these residents from lead in water, knew or should've known after June at the very very latest of this year, that federal law was not being followed in Flint, and that these children and residents were not being protected. And the extent to which they went to cover this up exposes a new level of arrogance and uncaring that I have never encountered."
Edwards' team created a website, called "Flint Water Study", with the main purpose of informing, and creating support for Flint residents during the crisis. The site also summarized study results and became a comprehensive public database for all information related to the study.
On January 11, 2016, the Virginia Tech research team led by Edwards announced that it had completed its work. Edwards said, "We now feel that Flint's kids are finally on their way to being protected and decisive actions are under way to ameliorate the harm that was done." Edwards credited the Michigan ACLU and the group Water You Fighting For with doing the "critical work of collecting and coordinating" many water samples analyzed by the Virginia Tech team. Although the labor of the team (composed of scientists, investigators, graduate students, and undergraduates) was free, the investigation still spent more than $180,000 for such expenses as water testing and payment of Michigan Freedom of Information Act costs. A GoFundMe campaign has raised over $116,000 of the $150,000 needed for the team to recover its costs.
On January 27, the city of Flint retained Dr. Edwards to monitor the city's water testing efforts.
On March 1, 2016, the Virginia Tech team was given $80,000 from an EPA grant to re-test the lead levels in 271 Flint homes.
On August 11, 2016, Kelsey Pieper, a member of Dr. Edwards' research team, said 45 percent of residents that collected samples in July for the lead testing program had no detectable level of particulate lead in their water supply. She added the study yielded a lead reading of 13.9 ppb, just below the federal action level of 15 ppb. However, Pieper acknowledged the sampling, which was conducted by volunteer residents, does not fulfill the testing requirements of the federal Lead and Copper Rule. State testing of the most-recent six month monitoring period, which began January 1 and complied with Lead and Copper Rule regulations, showed a 90th percentile lead reading of 20 ppb, which exceeds the federal action level. Roughly 93 percent of samples from the third round of expanded state sentinel site testing showed results below the lead action level. Dr. Edwards called the results the "beginning of the end" of the public health disaster associated with the water crisis.
On December 2, 2016, Dr. Edwards said lead wasn't detected in 57 percent of 154 Flint homes tested in November 2016 - up from 44 percent in July 2016. He also advised people to continue using filters.
- See also: Legionnaires' disease
On January 13, 2016, Snyder said that 87 cases of Legionnaires' disease, a waterborne disease, were reported in Genesee County from June 2014 – November 2015, resulting in 10 deaths. Although the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) said that there is no evidence of a clear link between the spike in cases and the water system change, Edwards stated the contaminated Flint water could be linked to the spike, telling reporters:
It's very possible that the conditions in the Flint River water contributed. We've actually predicted earlier this year that the conditions present in Flint would increase the likelihood of Legionnaires' disease. We wrote a proposal on that to the National Science Foundation that was funded, and we visited Flint and did two sampling events. The first one was focused on single family homes or smaller businesses. We did not find detectable levels of Legionella bacteria that causes disease in those buildings. But during our second trip, we looked at large buildings, and we found very high levels of Legionella that tends to cause the disease.
In a second report released January 21, state researchers had still not pin-pointed the source of the outbreak. The next day, an official at McLaren Regional Medical Center in Flint put out a press release that said:
After the City of Flint switched to the Flint River as its water source in April of 2014, we noticed an increase in the number of Legionella cases that were coming to McLaren for treatment, as well as those being reported across the county and at other hospitals. Because of that concern, and concern over the quality of water that we were receiving from the city, we began aggressively testing our water supply. An early test result indicated the presence of a low level Legionella. All Legionella and lead testing continues to show that the McLaren Flint water supply is well within safety and quality standards. It is important to note that no test have ever determined that McLaren is the source of exposure for any patients testing positive for the Legionella antigen, and that there is no definitive data to support that McLaren Flint is the source of exposure for any patient testing positive for the Legionella antigen.
The family of one of the people who died of Legionnaires has filed a $100 million lawsuit against McLaren.
The Flint Journal obtained documents via the Michigan Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) on the Legionnaires' outbreak and published an article on them on January 16, 2016. The documents indicated that on October 17, 2014, employees of the Genesee County Health Department and the Flint water treatment plant met to discuss the county's "concerns regarding the increase in Legionella cases and possible association with the municipal water system." By early October 2014, the Michigan DEQ were aware of a possible link between the water in Flint and the Legionnaires' outbreak, but the public was never informed, and the agency gave assurances about water safety in public statements and at public forums. An internal January 27, 2015 email from a supervisor at the health department said that the Flint water treatment plant had not responded in months to "multiple written and verbal requests" for information. In January 2015, following the complete breakdown in communication between the city and the county on the Legionnaires' investigation, the county filed a FOIA request with the city, seeking "specific water testing locations and laboratory results ... for coliform, E-coli, heterotrophic bacteria and trihalomethanes" and other information. In April 2015, the county health department contacted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and in April 2015 a CDC employee wrote in an email that the Legionnaire's outbreak was "very large, one of the largest we know of in the past decade and community-wide, and in our opinion and experience it needs a comprehensive investigation." However, MDHHS told the county health department at the time that federal assistance was not necessary.
Emails obtained by Progress Michigan in February 2016 indicate Snyder's office knew about the outbreak since March 2015, despite Snyder's claim he was only informed in January 2016.
On March 11, 2016, Governor Snyder ordered an investigation of the MDHHS regarding the outbreak.
On February 16, 2017, it was reported the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discovered the first genetic links between city water and patients diagnosed with Legionnaires' disease in Genesee County. "The presence of Legionella in Flint was widespread," said Dr. Janet Stout, a research associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh and a national expert on the disease. "The (laboratory) results show that strains (of the bacteria) were throughout the water system." Virgina Tech researcher Amy Pruden published a study that found Legionella levels up to 1,000 times higher than normal tap water in Flint, and said finding a patient who's clinical isolates -- or bacteria -- matched the McLaren water sample without having been hospitalized there "suggests that same strain may have been elsewhere."
Inquiries, investigations, resignations, and release of documents
One focus of inquiry is when Snyder became aware of the issue, and how much he knew about it. In a July 2015 email, Dennis Muchmore (then Snyder's chief of staff) wrote to a Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) official, "I'm frustrated by the water issue in Flint. I really don't think people are getting the benefit of the doubt. These folks are scared and worried about the health impacts and they are basically getting blown off by us (as a state we're just not sympathizing with their plight)." In a separate email sent on July 22, 2015, MDHHS local health services director Mark Miller wrote to colleagues that it "Sounds like the issue is old lead service lines." These emails were obtained under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act by Virginia Tech researchers studying the crisis, and were released to the public in the first week of January 2016.
In October 2015, it was reported that the city government's data on lead water lines in the city was stored on 45,000 index cards (some dating back a century) located in filing cabinets in Flint's public utility building. The Department of Public Works said that it was trying to transition the data into an electronic spreadsheet program, but as of October 1, 2015, only about 25% of the index card information had been digitized.
On October 21, 2015, Snyder announced the creation of a five-member Flint Water Advisory Task Force, consisting of Ken Sikkema of Public Sector Consultants and Chris Kolb of the Michigan Environmental Council (co-chairs) and Dr. Matthew Davis of the University of Michigan Health System, Eric Rothstein of the Galardi Rothstein Group and Dr. Lawrence Reynolds of Mott Children's Health Center in Flint. On December 29, 2015, the Task Force released its preliminary report, saying that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) bore ultimate blame for the Flint water crisis. The task force wrote that the MDEQ's Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance (ODWMA) adopted a "minimalist technical compliance approach" to water safety, which was "unacceptable and simply insufficient to the task of public protection." The task force also found that "Throughout 2015, as the public raised concerns and as independent studies and testing were conducted and brought to the attention of MDEQ, the agency's response was often one of aggressive dismissal, belittlement, and attempts to discredit these efforts and the individuals involved. We find both the tone and substance of many MDEQ public statements to be completely unacceptable." The task force also found that the Michigan DEQ has failed to follow the federal Lead and Copper Rule (LCR). That rule requires "optimized corrosion control treatment," but MDEQ staff instructed City of Flint water treatment staff that corrosion control treatment (CCT) would not be necessary for a year. The task force found that "the decision not to require CCT, made at the direction of the MDEQ, led directly to the contamination of the Flint water system."
The task force's findings prompted the resignation of MDEQ director Dan Wyant and communications director Brad Wurfel. Flint Department of Public Works director Howard Croft also resigned.
The Flint Water Advisory Task Force's final report, released March 21, 2016, found the MDEQ, MDHHS, Governor's office, and the state-appointed emergency managers "fundamentally accountable" for the crisis, saying the people of Flint were "needlessly and tragically" exposed to toxic levels of lead and other hazards.
On January 8, 2016, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Michigan said that it was investigating. A month later, they said they were working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the EPA's Office of Inspector General, the EPA's Criminal Investigation Division, and the Postal Inspection Service on the investigation.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) "battled Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality behind the scenes for at least six months over whether Flint needed to use chemical treatments to keep lead lines and plumbing connections from leaching into drinking water" and "did not publicize its concern that Flint residents' health was jeopardized by the state's insistence that such controls were not required by law". In 2015, EPA water expert Miguel A. Del Toral "identified potential problems with Flint's drinking water in February, confirmed the suspicions in April and summarized the looming problem" in an internal memo circulated on June 24, 2015.
Despite these "dire warnings" from Del Toral, the memo was not publicly released until November 2015, after a revision and vetting process. In the interim, the EPA and the Michigan DEQ engaged in a dispute on how to interpret the Lead and Copper Rule. According to EPA Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman, the EPA pushed to immediately implement corrosion controls in the interests of public health, while the Michigan DEQ sought to delay a decision on corrosion control until two six-month periods of sampling had been completed. Meanwhile, MDEQ spokesman Brad Wurfel called Del Toral a "rogue employee" for his whistle-blowing efforts. Dr. Marc Edwards, who investigated the lead contamination, wrote that Del Toral had made a "heroic effort" that was stymied by the EPA and MDEQ spending months "wrangling over jurisdiction, technicalities and legalities."
In an interview with the Detroit News published on January 12, 2016, Hedman said that "the recommendation to DEQ (regarding the need for corrosion controls) occurred at higher and higher levels during this time period. And the answer kept coming back from DEQ that 'no, we are not going to make a decision until after we see more testing results.'" Hedman said the EPA did not go public with its concerns earlier because (1) state and local governments have primary responsibility for drinking water quality and safety; (2) there was insufficient evidence at that point of the extent of the danger; and (3) the EPA's legal authority to compel the state to take action was unclear, and the EPA discussed the issue with its legal counsel, who only rendered an opinion in November. Hedman said the EPA discussed the issue with its legal counsel and urged the state to have MDHHS warn residents about the danger. On January 21, Hedman's resignation (effective February 1) was accepted.
Assessments of the EPA's action varied. Edwards said that the assessment in Del Toral's original June memo was "100 percent accurate" and criticized the EPA for failing to take more immediate action. State Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, Democrat of Flint, said, "There's been a failure at all levels to accurately assess the scale of the public health crisis in Flint, and that problem is ongoing. However, the EPA's Miguel Del Toral did excellent work in trying to expose this disaster. Anyone who read his memo and failed to act should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law." Del Toral later told The Flint Journal, "I was stunned when I found out they did not have corrosion control in place. In my head, I didn't believe that. I thought: That can't be true...that's so basic." He also confirmed that unfiltered Flint water is still unsafe to drink, and doesn't know when that will change.
On January 15, 2016, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced that his office would open an investigation into the crisis, saying the situation in Flint "is a human tragedy in which families are struggling with even the most basic parts of daily life." To oversee the AG Office's probe, Schuette appointed Todd Flood as special prosecutor and Andrew Arena as chief investigator, who lead a team of nine full-time investigators. At a media roundtable in February 2016, Flood said that the investigation could result in involuntary manslaughter charges, if there was gross negligence leading to a death. Critics have questioned the objectivity of the investigation.
In his annual State of the State address on January 19, 2016, Snyder announced that he would release all of his emails from 2014 and 2015 regarding the crisis. The following day, the governor's office released 274 pages of emails. The New York Times summarized, "the documents provide a glimpse of state leaders who were at times dismissive of the concerns of residents, seemed eager to place responsibility with local government and, even as the scientific testing was hinting at a larger problem, were reluctant to acknowledge it." Later that month in a class action lawsuit related to the crisis, Snyder and the MDEQ were served subpoenas for the release of additional emails dating back to the beginning of 2011. Emails highlighted by Progress Michigan in January 2016 indicate that Michigan state officials were trucking in bottled water to some of their own employees stationed in Flint as early as January 2015 in regards to the unsafe levels of trihalomethanes, or THMs, a by-product of chlorine that had been added to the water to kill Coliform bacteria.
On February 12, 2016, Governor Snyder released additional emails between his office and the MDEQ which about the Legionnaires' outbreak. On February 26, Snyder's office released several thousand more emails regarding the crisis that date back to 2011. An additional batch of emails was released on March 10.
On January 22, 2016, two MDEQ employees (Liane Shekter Smith, former chief of the department's Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance; and Steve Busch, former district supervisor in the division) were suspended, pending an investigation, as a result of questions regarding actions related to water testing in Flint. In response, Snyder said, "Michiganders need to be able to depend on state government to do what's best for them and in the case of the DEQ that means ensuring their drinking water is safe. Some DEQ actions lacked common sense and that resulted in this terrible tragedy in Flint. I look forward to the results of the investigation to ensure these mistakes don't happen again." Smith was fired on February 5, 2016.
On January 25, 2016, the Genesee County Commission approved a request from Genesee County Prosecuting Attorney David Leyton for $25,000 to conduct an investigation into the crisis. The money will be used to hire two special prosecutors.
On March 4, 2016, a report released by the Michigan Auditor General's office called the MDEQ's Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance "not sufficient" in its oversight of the state's Community Water Supply Program.
Costs of infrastructure repairs and medical treatment
On January 7, 2016, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said that estimates of the cost of fixing water infrastructure in Flint, such as aging pipes, range from millions up to $1.5 billion. These figures encompass infrastructure alone, excluding any public health costs of the disaster. DEQ interim director Keith Creagh said that estimation of total costs would be premature. However, in a September 2015 email released by Snyder in January 2016, the state estimated the replacement cost to be $60 million, and said it could take up to 15 years to do.
On January 18, 2016 the United Way of Genesee County estimated 6,000–12,000 children have been exposed to lead poisoning and kicked off a fundraising campaign to raise $100 million over a 10–15 year span for their medical treatment. On January 27, 2016 Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha started a fundraiser for the $80,000 needed for the medical treatment of Flint children affected by lead poisoning. Meridian Health Plan of Detroit has agreed to donate up to $40,000 in matching funds to the Community Foundation of Greater Flint for long-term needs Dr. Hanna-Attisha expects to arise from the lead issue.
At his annual State of the State address on January 19, Snyder apologized again, and asked the Michigan Legislature to give Flint an additional $28 million in funding for filters, replacement cartridges, bottled water, more school nurses and additional intervention specialists. It also will fund lab testing, corrosion control procedures, a study of water-system infrastructure, potentially help Flint deal with unpaid water bills, case management of people with elevated lead-blood levels, assessment of potential linkages to other diseases, crisis counseling and mental health services, and the replacement of plumbing fixtures in schools, child care centers, nursing homes and medical facilities. The Michigan House Appropriations Committee passed the bill the next day, while the Senate approved it on January 28. Snyder signed it the next day.
On January 21, 2016 President Obama gave an $80 million loan to Michigan for infrastructure repairs, but the amount going to Flint is uncertain.
On January 28, 2016 Democratic U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters and Representative Dan Kildee proposed an amendment to pending federal energy legislation to add the special appropriation of up to $400 million to replace and repair the lead service lines in Flint and $200 million more to create a center for lead research in Flint. They also said the state could choose to match up to $400 million for its share of infrastructure repairs in Flint. The newly amended bill was rejected by the Senate on February 4. A new $220 million bill to address the crisis was proposed in the U.S. Senate on February 24.
At a news conference on February 9, 2016, Flint mayor Karen Weaver said that the city would remove and replace all of the city's 15,000 water service lines containing lead piping. Work was expected to begin in March 2016. The project will receive technical advice from the Lansing Board of Water and Light, which removed over 13,000 lead pipes in Lansing, Michigan. Lansing mayor Virg Bernero volunteered to provide the assistance. Weaver appointed Michael C.H. McDaniel, a retired National Guard brigadier general, to oversee the group leading the project, the Flint Action and Sustainability Team (FAST). The city government hopes to complete the project within a year, using 32 work crews, with priority given to the most at-risk households. The project is expected to cost $55 million, and the funding sources are not yet secured, but the city plans to seek it from local, state, and federal sources. The crews began working on March 4.
On February 16, 2016 the state hired Flint-based engineering firm Rowe Professional Services to begin the process of locating, removing, and eventually replacing lead pipes in the highest risk areas of Flint.
On February 18, 2016 the state gave Flint a $2 million grant that will go towards replacing lead service lines.
On March 6, 2016 Union Labor Life Insurance Company donated $25 million for lead pipe replacements in the city.
On July 18, 2016 city council approved a $500,000 contract with three companies for the second phase of lead pipe replacements: WT Stevens, and Johnson & Wood were awarded $320,000 contracts to do no more than 50 homes each. Goyette was awarded $619,500 to tackle replacing lead lines at 150 Flint homes. The city is using $25 million in funding approved by the Michigan legislature in June that was allocated for replacing Flint lead tainted pipes for Fast Start's third phase which will replace infrastructure at an estimated 5,000 homes in Flint.
On October 10, 2016 city council approved contracts to replace pipes at 788 more homes before winter. The third phase will be funded using a portion of $25 million approved by the Michigan Legislature in June that was allocated for replacing Flint lead tainted pipes for Fast Start's third phase, which will replace infrastructure at an estimated 5,000 homes in Flint. Goyette will be paid $1,663,300.60 for replacements at 260 addresses in city wards two, six and eight. WT Stevens will be paid $2,306,384 for replacements at 488 addresses in city wards three, four, eight and nine.
On October 17, 2016 the second phase of the program was completed on 218 homes. The project was completed by WT Stevens Construction Inc., Johnson & Wood Mechanical, and Goyette Mechanical. By November 22, 2016, the total number of homes with new pipes was 460.
A University of Michigan study released on December 1, 2016 stated a total of 29,100 lead pipes need to be replaced.
On January 19, 2017, an engineer at the Flint Water Plant said the facility is in need of $60 million worth of upgrades, which wouldn't be finished until well into 2019. On February 7, 2017, another report said the cost would be $108 million.
On February 6, 2017, the Genesee Intermediate School District received $6.5 million for the Early On Genesee program to provide free evaluations to as many as 5,000 children up to 5 years old facing possible lead-related developmental delays from the state of Michigan.
On March 17, 2017, Flint received a $100 million grant from the EPA for water infrastructure repairs.
Long term costs and lifelong problems associated with lead poisoning
Childhood lead exposure causes a reduction in intellectual functioning and IQ, academic performance, and problem-solving skills, and an increased risk of attention deficit disorder, aggression, and hyperactivity. According to studies, children with elevated levels of lead in the blood are more likely as adults to commit crimes, be imprisoned, be unemployed or underemployed, or be dependent on government services. In addition, early-life exposure to lead may increase risk of later-life neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, and this risk is likely to persist into late life long after lead has been removed from the body. A 2014 study by researchers at Risk Science Center at the University of Michigan, completed before the Flint water crisis came to light, estimated the annual cost of childhood lead exposure in Michigan at $330 million ($205 million in decreases in lifetime earnings, $105 million in additional criminal justice system expenditures, $18 million in health expenditures to diagnose lead positioning and lead-linked attention deficit disorder), and $2.5 million in additional special education expenditures.
Because the developmental effects of lead exposure appear over a series of years, the total long-term cost of the Flint water crisis "will not be apparent in the short term." However, the cost is expected to be high. Philippe Grandjean of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, an expert in the effects of environmental pollution on brain development, said that "when calculated from the loss of lifetime income, the societal costs from lead exposure (across the United States) reach billion dollar amounts."
After approving Governor Snyder's application for an emergency declaration, President Barack Obama said of the crisis, "What is inexplicable and inexcusable is once people figured out that there was a problem there, and that there was lead in the water, the notion that immediately families weren't notified, things weren't shut down. That shouldn't happen anywhere." President Obama visited Flint on May 4, 2016 to reiterate his thoughts and drank a glass of filtered Flint water to show it was safe.
President Donald Trump's plan to fix the crisis in Michigan has been folded into his federal infrastructure plan. Trump's infrastructure plan proposes $1 trillion in spending on new infrastructure by offering corporations who invest in infrastructure projects tax credits, with the corporations investing approximately $167 billion. This plan would require a return of 9-10% to investors to remain feasible. This plan has no direct reference to or specific proposal for the crisis in Flint and as of his election he has not proposed a direct federal intervention.
On February 28, 2017, President Trump gave a speech to a joint session of Congress asking them to fund his plan.
On March 15, 2017, President Trump briefly met with Flint Mayor Karen Weaver during his trip to a former aircraft factory in Ypsilanti Township to discuss infrastructure funding for Flint. Weaver said she hopes to speak with Trump about the water crisis in greater detail in the near future.
Michigan congressional delegation
On January 20, 2016, Senator Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat, faulted the state for having "no sense of urgency whatsoever" despite warnings from the EPA about the contaminated water. Senator Gary Peters, also a Democrat, said, "The water crisis in Flint is an immense failure on the part of the State of Michigan to protect the health and safety of the City's residents, and the State must accept full responsibility for its actions that led to this catastrophe." Peters, along with Stabenow and Representative Dan Kildee, called upon the state to make a "sustained financial commitment" to assist Flint "by establishing a 'Future Fund' to meet the cognitive, behavioral and health challenges" of children affected by lead poisoning. Peters also called upon the state to reimburse Flint residents for the money that was paid for contaminated water, to pay the city's legal fees in connection with the water crisis, and to pay for the costs of reconnecting to the Detroit water system.
On January 12, 2016, Dan Kildee, Democrat of Flint, said of Snyder, "It's beyond my comprehension that he continues to treat this as a public relations problem rather than as a public health emergency. Meanwhile, kids in Flint are still being exposed to high levels of lead in the water." Kildee called upon Snyder to request federal assistance, which Snyder subsequently did. Kildee, along with fellow Michigan Representative Fred Upton, also sponsored H.R. 4470, the Safe Drinking Water Act Improved Compliance Awareness Act, which will ensure that the public promptly learns of excessive lead levels in their drinking water by setting forth how and when states, EPA, and public utilities communicate their findings. It has passed the House but has yet to be passed by the Senate.
Among the Michigan congressional delegation, only Representative Justin Amash, Republican of Cascade Township, opposed federal aid for Flint. Amash opined that "the U.S. Constitution does not authorize the federal government to intervene in an intrastate matter like this one."
On January 4, 2016, citing the Flint water crisis, Michigan Representative Phil Phelps, Democrat of Flushing, announced plans to introduce a bill to the Michigan House of Representatives that would make it a felony for state officials to intentionally manipulate or falsify information in official reports, punishable by up to five years' imprisonment and a $5,000 fine.
On March 2, House Democratic leader Tim Greimel called on Governor Snyder to resign, due to his "negligence and indifference" in his handling of the Flint water crisis. Also on that date, State Democratic Party Chairman Brandon Dillon called for Michigan Treasurer Nick Khouri to resign due to his role in a loan agreement from April 2015 that blocked Flint from switching back to the Detroit system.
Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton repeatedly mentioned the crisis during her campaign, saying: "The people of Flint deserve to know the truth about how this happened and what Governor Snyder and other leaders knew about it. And they deserve a solution, fast. Thousands of children may have been exposed to lead, which could irreversibly harm their health and brain functioning. Plus, this catastrophe—which was caused by a zeal to save money at all costs—could actually cost $1.5 billion in infrastructure repairs." In a subsequent interview, Clinton referred to her work on lead abatement in housing in upstate New York while a U.S. Senator and called for further funding for healthcare and education for children who will suffer the negative effects of lead exposure on behavior and educational attainment.
The crisis was also the catalyst for a town hall style debate in Flint between Clinton and Democratic rival Bernie Sanders on March 6, 2016, two days before the Michigan Presidential primary election. It was hosted by CNN anchors Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon. Both candidates called for Governor Snyder to resign during the event.
On January 19, 2016, Republican candidate (at the time) Donald Trump said, "It's a shame what's happening in Flint, Michigan. A thing like that shouldn't happen." After clinching the Republican nomination, Trump visited Flint on September 14, 2016 and toured the water plant and a Flint church, where he promised to fix the water crisis, and in a brief speech there, he blamed NAFTA for General Motors' abandonment of Flint and the area's subsequent ongoing recession caused by it, saying, "It used to be that cars were made in Flint and you couldn't drink the water in Mexico. Now cars are made in Mexico, and you can't drink the water in Flint. That's terrible."
Lead poisoning and aging infrastructure problems in other cities
The water disaster called attention to the problem of aging and seriously neglected water infrastructure nationwide. The Flint crisis recalled recent lead contamination crises in the tap water in various cities, such as the lead contamination in Washington, D.C. drinking water (2001), Columbia, South Carolina (2005); Durham and Greenville, North Carolina (2006); Jackson, Mississippi (2015); and Sebring, Ohio (2015). The New York Times notes, "Although Congress banned lead water pipes 30 years ago, between 3.3 million and 10 million older ones remain, primed to leach lead into tap water by forces as simple as jostling during repairs or a change in water chemistry." Inadequate regulation was cited as one reason for unsafe lead levels in tap water and "efforts to address shortcomings often encounter push-back from industries like agriculture and mining that fear cost increases, and from politicians ideologically opposed to regulation." The crisis called attention to a "resource gap" for water regulators. The annual budget of the EPA's drinking water office declined 15% from 2006 to 2015, with the office losing over 10% of employees, and the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators reported in 2013 that "federal officials had slashed drinking-water grants, 17 states had cut drinking-water budgets by more than a fifth, and 27 had cut spending on full-time employees," with "serious implications for states’ ability to protect public health."
In the aftermath of the water crisis, it was noted that elevated blood-lead levels in children are found in many cities across Michigan, including Detroit, Grand Rapids, Muskegon, and Adrian. Although statewide childhood lead-poisoning rates have dramatically declined since the removal of lead from gasoline, certain areas of the state (particularly low-income areas with older housing stock) continue to experience lead poisoning, mostly from lead paint in homes built before 1978 and lead residue in dust and soil. Lead abatement efforts are slow.
Accusations of environmental racism
Civil rights advocates characterized the crisis as a result of environmental racism (Flint's population is 56.6% African American per the 2010 census), a term primarily referring to the disproportionate exposure of ethnic minorities to pollution as a result of "poverty and segregation that has relegated many blacks and other racial minorities to some of the most industrialized or dilapidated environments." Columnist Shaun King, for example, wrote that the crisis was "a horrific clash of race, class, politics and public health."
The Michigan Civil Rights Commission later reiterated this belief in a 138-page report titled "The Flint Water Crisis: Systemic Racism Through the Lens of Flint". Its writers said of it, "Policy makers, government leaders, and decision makers at many levels failed the residents of Flint," said Agustin Arbulu, Director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. "By not challenging their assumptions, by not asking themselves the tough questions about how policy and decisions play out in different communities, especially communities primarily made up of people of color, those decisions and actions - or in some cases, lack of action - led to the tragedy taking place in Flint." "We strongly believe that the actions that led to the poisoning of Flint's water and the slow response resulted in the abridgement of civil rights for the people of Flint," said Arthur Horwitz, co-chair of the Commission during the time of the investigation. "We are not suggesting that those making decisions related to this crisis were racists, or meant to treat Flint any differently because it is a community of color. Rather, the response is the result of implicit bias and the history of systemic racism that was built into the foundation of Flint. The lessons of Flint are profound. While the exact situation and response that happened in Flint may never happen anywhere else, the factors that led to this crisis remain in place and will most certainly lead to other tragedies if we don't take steps to remedy them. We hope this report is a step in that direction." The Governor's office responded: "Some findings of the report and the recommendations are similar to those of the (Flint Water Advisory Task Force and) the legislative panel and the Flint Water Interagency Coordinating Committee," said Gov. Rick Snyder spokeswoman Anna Heaton. "The Governor takes the reporting of each of these panels very seriously, and appreciates the public input that was shared." The findings were no surprise for State Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich. "The presence of racial bias in the Flint water crisis isn't much of a surprise to those of us who live here, but the Michigan Civil Rights Commission's affirmation that the emergency manager law disproportionately hurts communities of color is an important reminder of just how bad the policy is. Now is the time to address this flawed law," Ananich said. He went on to say, "The people of Flint deserve the same level of safety, opportunity and justice that any other city in Michigan enjoys".
On October 8, 2015, the editorial board of the Detroit Free Press wrote that the crisis was "an obscene failure of government" and criticized Snyder.
On December 31, 2015, the editorial board of the MLive group of Michigan newspapers called upon Snyder to "drop executive privilege and release all of his communications on Flint water," establish a procedure for compensating families with children suffering from elevated lead blood levels, and return Flint to local control.
Some of the most important reporting on the crisis was conducted by investigative reporter Curt Guyette, who works not for a news organization but for the American Civil Liberties Union's Michigan Democracy Watch Project. The work of Guyette and the ACLU was credited with bringing the water contamination to public light.
MSNBC host Rachel Maddow has extensively reported on the water crisis on her show since December 2015, keeping it in the national spotlight. She has condemned Snyder's use of emergency managers (which she termed a "very, very radical" change "to the way we govern ourselves as Americans, something that nobody else has done") and said, "The kids of Flint, Michigan have been poisoned by a policy decision." Maddow visited Flint and hosted a town hall with government officials and other involved experts on her show on January 27.
In January 2016, the watchdog group Common Cause called upon Snyder to release all documents related to the Flint water crisis. The governor's office is not subject to the Michigan Freedom of Information Act.
The hacktivist group Anonymous released a YouTube video calling for the arrest of Snyder.
The filmmaker Michael Moore, a Genesee County native, called for Snyder's arrest for mishandling the water crisis in an open letter to the governor, writing, "The facts are all there, Mr. Snyder. Every agency involved in this scheme reported directly to you. The children of Flint didn't have a choice as to whether or not they were going to get to drink clean water." A spokesman for the governor called Moore's call "inflammatory." Later, after hearing of the Legionnaires' outbreak, Moore termed the state's actions "murder." Speaking to reporters in Flint, he emphasized that "this was not a mistake ... Ten people have been killed here because of a political decision. They did this. They knew."
In a post on her Facebook page, environmental activist Erin Brockovich called the water crisis a "growing national concern" and said that the crisis was "likely" connected to the Legionnaires' disease outbreak. Brockovich called for the U.S. Environment Protection Agency to become involved in the investigation, saying that the EPA's "continued silence has proven deadly."
On January 16, 2016, the Reverend Jesse Jackson met with Mayor Weaver in Flint and said of the crisis, "The issue of water and air and housing and education and violence are all combined. The problem here obviously is more than just lack of drinkable water. We know the problems here and they will be addressed." Jackson called Flint "a disaster zone" and a "crime scene" during a rally at a Flint church the next day. Jackson, in conjunction with the group Concerned Pastors for Social Action, held a major national march in Flint on February 19 to address the water issue, as well as inner city violence and urban reconstruction.
On January 18, Nontombi Naomi Tutu, daughter of Desmond Tutu, said in a speech at the University of Michigan–Flint, "We actually needed the people of Flint to remind the people of this country what happens when political expediency, when financial concerns, overshadow justice and humanity."
On January 24, actor and clean drinking water advocate Matt Damon called for Snyder's resignation.
On March 7, actor Mark Ruffalo, head of the group Water Defense, visited Flint and called for more federal aid in the emergency and Snyder's resignation while saying, "It's an absolute outrage, it's a moral indecency." Water Defense conducted studies on Flint water in the spring of 2016, claiming it is still unsafe for bathing or showering. Their findings were disputed by Virginia Tech water expert Dr. Marc Edwards on May 31, 2016.
In the third episode of the Adult Swim comedy series Million Dollar Extreme Presents: World Peace, Charles Carroll (member of the group of YouTube comedians "Million Dollar Extreme") delivers a monologue where he describes how viewers can recreate the contaminated water in Flint. In his monologue, the right wing leaning Carroll discusses the concept of tyrannicide with costars Sam Hyde and Andrew Ruse and claims that the situation in Flint is a situation where the violent murder of Republican leadership in the state of Michigan would be justified.
Education and research
During its winter 2016 semester, the University of Michigan–Flint offered a one-credit, eight-session series of public forums dedicated to educating Flint residents and students on the crisis.
The University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) committed to spending $100,000 to research the crisis and possible ways to address it.
Wayne State University in Detroit will lead a separate study focusing on the Legionnaires' outbreak called the Flint Area Community Health and Environment Partnership. It will also include researchers from Flint's Kettering University and Detroit's Henry Ford Hospital.
Other possible causes and responses
The crisis highlighted a lack of transparency in Michigan government; the state is one of just two states that exempts the governor's office from state freedom-of-information legislation. A number of commentators framed the crisis in terms of human rights, writing that authorities' handling of the issue denied residents their right to clean water. Some have framed it as the end result of austerity measures and given priority over human life. Jacob Lederman, for example, contends that Flint's poisoned water supply, in addition to high crime rates, devastated schools and crumbling infrastructure, can be attributed to neoliberal economic reforms.
Robby Soave, writing in Reason magazine, said that administrative bloat in public-sector trade unions was to blame for the crisis: "Let's not forget the reason why local authorities felt the need to find a cheaper water source: Flint is broke and its desperately poor citizens can’t afford higher taxes to pay the pensions of city government retirees. As recently as 2011, it would have cost every person in Flint $10,000 each to cover the unfunded legacy costs of the city's public employees." "Flint was a government-made disaster from top to bottom. Private companies didn't run the system or profit from it," Shikha Dalmia wrote in Reason Magazine.
The crisis brought the National Water Infrastructure Conference to Flint in early March 2017. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and Flint Mayor Karen Weaver spoke on the first day. Dr. Marc Edwards spoke there two days later.
Donations of water and money
Celebrity and corporate donations
The United Auto Workers union donated drinking water to Flint via a caravan of trucks to local food banks, and an AmeriCorps team announced that it would deploy to Flint to assist in response efforts.
Singer Cher donated 181,000 bottles of water to the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan, while the Legacy Group Water Project coordinated with the Red Cross and the City of Flint as well as Bottles for the Babies to initiate the largest volunteer action to distribute water and filters into the city in a single day since the citywide emergency was declared a month earlier. Operation Flint, another volunteer group, also began accepting water donations the same day.
Rapper Meek Mill donated $50,000 and 60,000 bottles of water to Flint to aid in the crisis, while Oskar Blues Brewery and Ball Corporation donated 50,000 cans of water to Flint.
Rapper Big Sean, a Detroit native, donated $10,000 to the Community Foundation of Greater Flint, the Flint Firebirds' rivals in the Ontario Hockey League made donations: the Windsor Spitfires donated 40,000 bottles of water, and the Sarnia Sting donated 15,000 bottles of water, and Faygo teamed with United Way of America to begin a fund for Flint, where $2 will give someone a full case of free water.
Singer Aretha Franklin said she will provide hotel rooms and food for 25-50 Flint residents.
Jimmy Fallon donated $10,000 to the Community Foundation of Greater Flint while a group made up of actor Mark Wahlberg and rappers Sean Combs, Eminem, and Wiz Khalifa donated 1 million bottles of water to Flint.
Through her company, Parkwood Entertainment, singer Beyoncé raised over $82,000 during her Formation World Tour to assist the people of Flint during the water crisis.
The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians donated $10,000 to the Genesee County Sheriff's Department.
Detroit Lions defensive end Ziggy Ansah donated 94,000 bottles to Flint, and Terrance Knighton and his Washington Redskins teammates donated 3,600 bottles of water to Flint's Catholic Charities USA. On the same day, rock band Pearl Jam and a large group of musicians donated $300,000 to the United Way of Genesee County, and started a CrowdRise fundraiser for donations from its fans. Additionally, fundraising website GoFundMe promised to donate an additional $10,000 to the fund of the winner of a week-long contest that ended on January 29 between a large number of groups trying to raise money for Flint, while Anheuser-Busch donated 51,744 cans of water to the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan.
The Detroit Pistons donated $500,000 to the United Way of Genesee County from their FlintNOW fundraising campaign from the previous night's game.
A group of retired NBA players led by Derrick Coleman donated 30,000 cases of water to Flint.
Walmart, The Coca-Cola Company, Nestlé and PepsiCo announced that they would collectively donate a total of 176 truckloads of water (up to 6.5 million bottles) through the end of 2016. On the same day, singer Madonna (a native of nearby Bay City) donated $10,000 to the Community Foundation of Greater Flint, and singer Kem donated $10,000 to the Salvation Army of Genesee County. Also, rapper The Game donated $1,000,000 in water bottles to Flint, while FedEx, along with the city of Memphis, Tennessee donated 12,000 bottles of water to the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan.
Detroit Pistons forward Marcus Morris, in conjunction with Philadelphia organizations F.O.E. and the Nehemiah Davis Foundation donated 60,000 cases of water to Flint.
The company ShowerPill, which includes several NFL players, donated $100,000 in anti-microbial body wipes, baby wipes and water to the United Way of Genesee County for distribution focused on high schools and senior centers. On the same day, actor Jussie Smollett visited Flint and donated $10,000 to the Community Foundation of Greater Flint.
Meijer announced it is donating $500,000 to three non-profit organizations. $250,000 of this donation will go to the Flint Child Health and Development Fund, and the United Way of Genesee County's Flint Water Fund and the American Red Cross will receive $125,000 each.
A group of nine banks collectively donated $600,000 to the Community Foundation of Greater Flint.
AT&T Mobility set up a fund which allows customers to donate $10 to aid in the crisis by texting a certain number.
Platinum Equity chairman and CEO and Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores, a Flint native, launched a campaign to raise $10 million for Flint. On the same day, rapper Pusha T donated 2,000 cases of bottled water to Flint, and the city of Evanston, Illinois donated $5,000 to the United Way of Genesee County.
The Michigan State Medical Society donated $10,000 to the Community Foundation of Greater Flint.
The LaPorte County, Indiana Sheriff's Office donated 2,300 cases of water to a church in Flint, the Northwest Indiana Truck Club donated 3,500 cases of water to Flint, and NFL player and Flint native Brandon Carr donated $100,000 to the Community Foundation of Greater Flint and $10,000 to the Safe Water Safe Homes Fund.
The police fraternity Brothers Before Others donated 330 cases of water bottles, 361 one-gallon water jugs and $1,000 to the Flint Police Department. The charity Resources Unite of Dubuque, Iowa collected 300,000 bottles of water for Flint.
A group of students from Ohio State University donated 10,000 pounds of water to Flint's Catholic Charities USA.
Amtrak donated 30,000 bottles of water to Flint.
Consumers Energy, the area's gas and electricity provider, has donated $50,000 during the crisis ($25,000 to the Community Foundation of Greater Flint and $25,000 to the United Way of Genesee County), and its employees are delivering water to Flint homes. It is also matching donations from employees and retirees, up to $25,000.
The Michigan Masonic Charitable Foundation donated $100,000 to the Community Foundation of Greater Flint.
The Waukegan, Illinois Community School District donated 650 cases of bottled water to Flint.
The United Food and Commercial Workers, in partnership with Cargill, ConAgra Foods, Hormel Foods, JBS USA, Pinnacle Foods, Downs Food Group and Ryder Logistics donated 125,000 pounds of food to the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan in response to the crisis.
The Dow Chemical Company of nearby Midland donated $100,000 to the Community Foundation of Greater Flint, and its Water and Process Solutions division donated and will install 150 reverse osmosis water filtration systems in Flint homes.
The Dr Pepper Snapple Group donated 41,000 bottles of water to the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan.
Niagara Bottling, in partnership with Dray Technologies, donated over 50,000 gallons of bottled water to Feed the Children.
Platinum Equity's FlintNOW Foundation, in conjunction with Huntington Bank, started a $25 million economic development program that will loan aid money to Flint businesses affected by the water crisis.
Two prisons in Northern Michigan donated 29,000 bottles of water to the Genesee Intermediate School District.
The Kresge Foundation donated $2 million to the Community Foundation of Greater Flint.
Friends of Dave (a Dave Matthews Band fan club) donated two truckloads of water to the Catholic Charities of Flint.
Donations from religious organizations and groups
Tabernacle Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee donated 70,000 pounds of water to Flint.
The United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ, two Flint-area Protestant denominations worked together to launch a water distribution effort.
Flint Jewish Federation worked in partnership with the American Red Cross to help get clean water to homes.
In January 2016, Muslim organizations, including Who is Hussain, Life for Relief and Development, Islamic Relief USA, and the Michigan Muslim Community Council donated and distributed thousands of bottles of water to Flint-area residents. By May, Michigan's Muslim community had donated more than one million bottles of water to Flint-area residents.
Comedians George Lopez, Eddie Griffin, Cedric the Entertainer, Charlie Murphy, and D. L. Hughley performed stand up comedy in Flint's Dort Federal Credit Union Event Center as part of The Comedy Get Down Tour, with the proceeds to go to the Community Foundation of Greater Flint.
$50,000 raised at the Meridian Winter Festival in Detroit was donated to the Community Foundation of Greater Flint.
On February 28, 2016, coinciding with the 88th Academy Awards ceremony, Creed director Ryan Coogler and Selma director Ava DuVernay held a charity event at the Whiting Auditorium in Flint. The event, titled #JusticeForFlint, was live-streamed by Sean Combs' Revolt.tv network. Hosted by comedian Hannibal Buress, it featured singers Janelle Monáe and Ledisi, as well as actor-activists Jesse Williams and Jussie Smollett, amongst others. The event raised $156,000.
A telethon led by Detroit TV station WDIV and simulcast on Michigan's other NBC affiliates raised $566,982 for the Community Foundation of Greater Flint. Detroit Pistons owner and Flint native Tom Gores matched the amount, doubling the amount raised to $1,133,964.
A benefit concert to support children affected by the crisis presented by Flint country music station Nash FM 95.1 featuring Granger Smith and Tegan Marie was held at the Dort Federal Center in Flint on April 7, with the proceeds going to Hurley's Children Hospital.
A charity celebrity basketball game called Hoop 4 Water featuring former Michigan State Spartans players Morris Peterson (from Flint), Zach Randolph and Jason Richardson, Coach Tom Izzo, and rapper Snoop Dogg was played in Flint on May 22.
Less famous artists also provided some help. EyeVLeague and Awakened Cincinnatians activist groups gathered 2,000 bottles of water at a free concert with local Cincinnati artists, such as Kenny Bryant, Joey Mack, Zeebro Blanka, James Frost, and Skep Bam DaVinci.
Fight for Flint was a boxing fundraiser at Flint's Dort Federal Event Center featuring Tommy "The Hitman" Hearns, along with brothers Andre Dirrell and Anthony Dirrell; Mike Hernandez, Troy Albrine Jr., Rakim Johnson; and female boxers Jackie Kallen, Fatuma Zarika and Alicia Ashley. It was sponsored by Don Elbaum Promotions and the Catholic Charities of Shiawassee and Genesee Counties.
A fundraiser called Fashion For Flint held in late January 2017 helped raised money to purchase 10,000 bottles of water.
In popular culture
Movies and documentaries
- In January 2017, Cher announced plans to produce and star in a Lifetime TV movie about the water crisis titled Flint, about a fictional Flint woman dealing with the water crisis and how it affects her family. On, March 24, Cher dropped out of the project citing a “serious family issue” as the cause. The project moved forward with filming scheduled to begin in April, 2017.
- Lead and Copper, a documentary on the Flint water contamination crisis, is scheduled to be released in 2017. Producers Michael Nozik and William Hart are working with Oscar-winning director Paul Haggis and writer Steven Leckart on the film. Flint native and publicist Howard Bragman is also involved.
- On January 4, 2016, DTV News released "Undrinkable: The Flint Water Emergency" about the crisis.
- On January 30, 2016, IAMHH Temple released "Flint's Water crisis & A Warning for Humanity" about the crisis.
- On February 7, 2016, Independent Underground Radio Network released "Flint Water Crisis - Real Stories, Real People, Real Life - A Mini Documentary " about the crisis.
- On March 8, 2016, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan released "Here's to Flint 2016" about the water crisis.
- On June 8, 2016, Russian channel RT Documentary released "Murky Waters of Flint. How a whole city was poisoned" about the crisis.
- On March 8, 2017, WDIV-TV in Detroit aired a documentary called "Failure In Flint: The Crisis Continues".
- On June 22, 2016, Bridge Magazine, The Center for Michigan, and Mission Point Press published a book about the crisis called "Poison on Tap". It has been described as a "riveting, authoritative account of the government blunders, mendacity and arrogance" that caused the crisis.
- On April 6, 2016, it was announced Anna Clark, in association with Metropolitan Books, will write a book called "Water’s Perfect Memory", which will describe “Flint as a canary-in-the-coal-mine tale of how the underfunding of cities across America imperils the lives if its residents.” Its publication date hasn't been announced.
- On January 28, 2016, rapper Jon Connor from Flint released a song titled "Fresh Water for Flint" about the crisis and how it has affected his family.
- Eminem raps about the water crisis in the new Big Sean song "No Favors" from the album I Decided.
- In the spring of 2016, Associate professor of conducting at the University of Colorado Boulder, Andrea Ramsey, in reaction to the Flint water crisis, composed a choral song titled, "But a Flint Holds Fire". Children choirs throughout the country have performed the song. Many of the lyrics for the piece come from Christina Rossetti's 19th-century poem, titled “Flint.”
Failed infrastructure and economic decline resulted in the toxic levels of lead in the city's water supply. According to an article published in the American Journal of Public Health, to prevent another contamination crisis, officials such as Governor Snyder should consult "professionals" and make "qualified" decisions. "Snyder and his administration introduced a corrosive water source into an aging water filtration system without adequate corrosion control (APHA)." "I wonder how many of the individuals who made those bad decisions were professional engineers, licensed plumbers, or water-treatment specialists?" asked Larry Clark, Sustainable Performance Solutions LLC the government's neglect in Flint's crisis from infrastructure failure due to the city's economic decline could prevent another municipal disaster.
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