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Excerpt: "In Flint, Michigan, a scandal over lead-tainted water keeps getting darker. On Tuesday, Governor Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency due to lead in the water supply. The same day, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it is investigating what went wrong in the city."

Fresh and clean? In this January 21, 2015 image, LeeAnne Walters shows water samples from her Flint home that were collected that month. (photo: AP)
Fresh and clean? In this January 21, 2015 image, LeeAnne Walters shows water samples from her Flint home that were collected that month. (photo: AP)


What Did the Governor Know About Flint's Water, and When Did He Know It?

By David A. Graham, The Atlantic

09 January 16

 

Michigan has finally declared a state of emergency over the city’s lead poisoning, but there are questions about why it’s taken so long to respond.

n Flint, Michigan, a scandal over lead-tainted water keeps getting darker.

On Tuesday, Governor Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency due to lead in the water supply. The same day, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it is investigating what went wrong in the city. Several top officials have resigned, and Snyder apologized. But that’s only so comforting for residents. They’re drinking donated water supplies—though those donations are reportedly running dry—or using filters. Public schools have been ordered to shut off taps. Residents, and particularly children, are being poisoned by lead, which can cause irreversible brain damage and affect physical health. It could cost $1.5 billion to fix the problem, a staggering sum for any city, much less one already struggling as badly as Flint is.

The story is horrifying, on a visceral, “this isn’t supposed to happen here” level. While attention has been slow to focus on Flint, the more that emerges, the worse the story seems. The latest question is when Snyder knew about the problem. This week, an email from Snyder’s then-chief of staff to a health-department official was turned over as part of a freedom-of-information request. In July 2015, Dennis Muchmore wrote:

I'm frustrated by the water issue in Flint I really don't think people are getting the benefit of the doubt. Now they are concerned and rightfully so about the lead level studies they are receiving. 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).

On Thursday, while declaring the state of emergency, Snyder wouldn’t say when he became aware of the lead problem in Flint. The governor—a trained engineer who likes to portray himse

The problem dates back to April 2014, when Flint was under the direction of an emergency manager appointed by the state to try to fix the broken city. (Michigan law provides for the governor to select managers, and the provision has been used in several places in recent years, most prominently Detroit.) To save money, the city began drawing its water from the Flint River, rather than from Detroit’s system, which was deemed too costly. But the river’s water was high in salt, which helped corrode Flint’s aging pipes, leaching lead into the water supply.

The move saved millions, but the problems started becoming apparent almost immediately. The water starting smelling like rotten eggs. Engineers responded to that problem by jacking up the chlorine level, leading to dangerous toxicity. GM discovered that city water was corroding engines at a Flint factory and switched sources. Then children and others started getting rashes and falling sick. Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech environmental-engineering professor, found that the water had nearly 900 times the recommend EPA limit for lead particles. As my colleague Alana Semuels noted in a deeply reported feature in July 2015, residents believe the city knew about problems as soon as May 2014. Yet as late as February 2015, even after tests showed dangerous lead levels, officials were telling residents there was no threat.

The July 2015 date on Semuels’ story emphasizes the incredible slowness of authorities to respond. That was more than a year after the switch to water from the Flint River. This week’s state declaration of Emergency comes some 20 months after the switch. How did it take so long to get anything done?

Semuels described the deeply interlocked series of causes in her piece:

But it’s not one emergency manager, or one bad decision about pumping water from the Flint River that has led these problems—and that might be the scariest part of all. Neglected infrastructure is really to blame, but it’s not quite as satisfying to blame old pipes as it is to blame the people in charge. And the city’s financial woes have a lot to do with its shrinking population, but it’s hard to blame the people who left in hopes of finding employment or a better life elsewhere. Eroding infrastructure isn’t unique to Flint. Things just broke down there first.

Even if the causes of the crisis are elaborate and inevitable, the state’s slow response provides ways to think a little bit about how the response broke down.

First, there’s a question of democracy. As Chris Lewis wrote in The Atlantic in 2013, the emergency-manager law raises serious questions about representation. If the manager is appointed by the state, he or she is not answerable to the population at the ballot box, and that means he or she is far less accountable when things go wrong. (This is exacerbated by the fact that the cities with managers are mostly Democratic, largely by virtue of being cities, while Snyder is a Republican.) That’s not just a bug—it's also a feature, since the managers are thought to be able to make painful but necessary choices that an elected official just won’t have the stomach to make. Flint’s water shows what can happen when the link between residents and authorities is broken: months of poisoned water supply.

There is a second, and more fundamental, question to the whole debacle as well. In 2014, a UN Special Rapporteur delivered a scathing attack on the city of Detroit, which was shutting off water services to residents who’d fallen behind on the bill. The city was in a tough spot: It was cash-strapped and deeply in debt, and it couldn’t afford not to get the money. But of course that was the problem the residents were facing too; like the city, they didn’t have the money. “Without water, people cannot live a life with dignity,” the UN said. “Denial of access to sufficient quantity of water threatens the rights to adequate housing, life, health, adequate food, integrity of the family. It exacerbates inequalities, stigmatizes people and renders the most vulnerable even more helpless.”

There’s a tendency to think of access to clean water as a basic human right—and certainly one in a prosperous, developed nation like the United States. Given how slowly authorities came around to dealing with Flint’s lead poisoning, even after the evidence was clear, can anyone expect the government to guarantee their own clean water?

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+45 # PeacefulGarden 2016-01-09 19:36
I think Governor Synder should be forced to drink the water from the Flint river; gallons of it.

And by the way, what corporation contaminated the Flint river in the first place? Did our lovely city, state, and federal government let who ever contaminated the Flint river off the hook? Sure they did.

Surely our FBI can use its research wing to track the history of the river, nah, they are busy connecting phone call metadata.
 
 
+14 # indian weaver 2016-01-10 08:02
The history of this problem has been clearly elucidated elsewhere: GM used the river as its garbage dump and cell pool for decades, with the blessing of Flint's lack of leadership - the usual public poisoning foisted on We The People by criminal regimes copying the policies of Washington, DC to increase their personal wealth and power.
 
 
+1 # FIRSTNORN1 2016-01-11 12:51
Quoting PeacefulGarden:
I think Governor Synder should be forced to drink the water from the Flint river; gallons of it.

And by the way, what corporation contaminated the Flint river in the first place? Did our lovely city, state, and federal government let who ever contaminated the Flint river off the hook? Sure they did.

Surely our FBI can use its research wing to track the history of the river, nah, they are busy connecting phone call metadata.

Dear PeacefulGarden, you only missed one element in the H2O story: Gov. Synder should be drinking Flint River Water from his prison cell for 30 years - if he can live that long.
 
 
+10 # chemtex2611 2016-01-09 23:51
The river is not necessarily contaminated by the salt, if the salt is a natural component of the local soils. In addition to the salt, the river water may also be slightly acidic and that causes / accelerates the corrosion of the pipes. The lead is coming from the old water pipes in Flint. The lead is being leached out by the river water and then comes out the end of the pipe in the kitchen and other faucets.
 
 
+11 # Barbara K 2016-01-10 11:24
As a Michigan resident, I've been aware of this situation for several months now. The info out here is that the Governor and his minions knew in Oct. 14 of the lead situation. They also knew that the river was toxic before they decided to use the water for the Flint residents to drink, etc., and did nothing but try to hide it until too many people and children were becoming very ill and someone in Flint had a Doctor friend in a southern state come up and test the water and the blood of all the children and found that they all have some level of lead poisoning. It took a resident to finally get the info out there, the Tbag crooks running the state were doing nothing. There is more info in Michael Moore's articles and our local newspapers and television, here in Michigan. The toxins mixed with the lead pipes and caused the erosion that led to this criminal activity, and they tried to hide it. Were they just waiting for the entire city's occupants to just die off?

..
 
 
+12 # awright 2016-01-10 01:41
chemtex, your user name makes you sound like a chemist. Are you merely informing us of your analysis of the technical situation or are you excusing the chemists responsible for monitoring the quality of municipal water on a continuing basis and their bosses because, "who in the world could have imagined that the Flint River water would leach lead out of old plumbing?"

Kind of like Condoleezza Rice asking in wonderment, who in the world could imagine terrorists flying airplanes into buildings... shortly after war games based upon that premise were conducted.

The question is not how the lead reached the faucets. The questions are, what did those responsible know, when did they know it, and if they didn't know it, why did they not know it?
 
 
0 # Shades of gray matter 2016-01-10 01:51
Had the population of Flint not been heavily vulnerable African Americans, this never would have happened. Why isn't Michael Moore using his fame and fortune to launch a recall of Rick Snyder? Michigan has lots of very rich sports and entertainment celebrities; why aren't they calling for/supporting recall? Some are from FLINT. Magic, Calvin, etc., where are you?
 
 
+21 # indian weaver 2016-01-10 08:04
Michael Moore HAS published an article calling for the mayor's incarceration, i.e., be indicted, convicted and go to prison in other words.
 
 
+2 # vicnada 2016-01-11 12:12
Quote:
"Why isn't Michael Moore using his fame and fortune to launch a recall of Rick Snyder?"
He has! He's just waiting for you and the rest of us here to sign:
http://michaelmoore.com/ArrestGovSnyder
 
 
+29 # sea7kenp 2016-01-10 02:20
Moore wants Snyder in prison. His article is on RSN.
 
 
+14 # SusanT136 2016-01-10 07:51
While it's true that ancient infrastructure is partly to blame, this is a completely foreseeable problem. I'm guessing that a huge number of cities in this country still have water systems with old leaded pipes. Any idiot knows that salt corrodes metal - certainly anyone who lives in a northern climate where the roads are salted and the cars rust. If not lead, other heavy metals would most likely be leeching into the water.

Someone needs to be prosecuted for this. If not for allowing it to happen in the first place, then for the criminally slow response which has poisoned many residents. No one knows if there will be long term damage to children.

This is what happens when an "emergency manager" is put in charge, who cares even less than elected officials about collateral damage in a "sacrifice zone". In the haste to "save money" this catastrophe will inevitably cost Flint many more millions, in the form of clean up, clean water supplies and lawsuits. Brilliant.
 
 
+13 # PABLO DIABLO 2016-01-10 09:45
First you give the corporations tax breaks so they will bring jobs. Then the workers pay the taxes. The corporations move on to somewhere with cheaper labor. The workers can't pay the taxes. The corporations come back in to buy/privatize public utilities. Detroit was a "test" model for the future. Too bad the lead disrupted their plans. WAKE UP AMERICA.
 
 
+13 # jimmyjames 2016-01-10 09:46
After Governor Snyder should be forced to drink gallons of Flint River water, he should be water-boarded with it and made to confess as to when he learned about the poisoning of his citizens.
 
 
+9 # pegasus4508 2016-01-10 16:42
Not only does this situation call for a complete, through and open investigation by the Department of Justice, what I want is JAIL Time. Start with Snyder and work your way down the ladder. There are plenty of jail cells. Time to fill them up. These are crimes against American citizens. Can we throw in some terrorist charges as well?
 
 
+2 # Anarchist 23 2016-01-12 13:36
Gee, America...you lose your mind over ISIL but neglect to do anything about the corporate/Repub lican interface that poisons thousands of your citizens...now it's Flint...but before it was all those rivers in VA and on the Navajo reservation...a nd the on-going poisoning by fracking wastewater or the increase in earthquake activity in OK...oh yeah and the PET coal pile outside Chicago south side...but worry a whole lot about ISIL and never,never,nev er see the vast depredations being visited on you by the corporate control of your land and government. PS...it's called Fascism.
 

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