Michigan Governor Rick Snyder is refuting claims that the water crisis in Flint, where residents have been exposed to toxic levels of lead and ten have died due to a contaminated water supply, is a case of environmental racism. But civil rights activists, politicians and residents of the city have summed up the events leading up to the crisis as well as the state government’s slow response to just that. More than half of Flint’s residents are black and the most recent statistics show that the average per capita income there is little more than $23,000.
“Environmental Racism + Indifference = Lead in the Water & Blood…The Poisoning of Flint’s Water,” tweeted NAACP President and CEO Cornell Brooks.
Filmmaker Michael Moore, who grew up in Flint took to social media early on in the crisis and spoke at city hall recently calling the situation “not just a water crisis [but] a racial crisis. It’s a poverty crisis…..That’s what created this,” he said.
Anti-corrosive measures were not implemented in April of 2014, when Flint switched its water source from Lake Huron in Detroit to the Flint River, where dangerously high levels of lead were leached from service pipes. The switch was made in an effort to cut costs in the cash strapped city, a decision made by its council under a state appointed emergency manager in 2013. Allegedly, complaints about the water since the switch continuously went unaddressed.
“We could immediately tell the water quality was different,” Jennifer Mason, a Flint resident told reporters. Some days the tap water smelled earthy, like a lake. The next day it would give off a burning chemical odor. Another time it reeked of rotten eggs.”
But according to news reports, Snyder is pointing to a failure by experts to provide state regulatory agencies with adequate information.
“That’s part of the problem here,” he said during an interview with MSNBC’s Morning Joe.
“We actually had outside experts raising the [lead poisoning ] question, where two people in our department didn’t see the issue. They actually came back and said, ‘we don’t agree with them, we believe we’re okay with respect to lead…”
Snyder said he went along with the inaccurate reports, since the people giving them were deemed to be experts. He said that it’s “a huge tragedy” that these people worked for him and he’s taking steps to address the problem. However, as far as it being a case of environmental racism, “absolutely not,” he said.
Meanwhile, in a letter sent to President Obama, 44 members of the Congressional Black Caucus called for “a thorough federal investigation of all entities that have regulatory and oversight jurisdiction in the matter and for immediate funding to assist the city of Flint in its recovery and future preventative efforts,” they said.
“The lack of proper oversight and action, leading to tens of thousands of citizens being exposed to toxic levels of lead in drinking water demands a thorough federal response,” said Congressional Black Caucus Chairman G.K. Butterfield in a statement released last week.
“More than 10,000 children, many under the age of six, have been exposed to dangerous amounts of lead in their drinking water, which can lead to a series of lifelong development and learning disabilities. Governor Rick Snyder failed to act swiftly and has greatly mishandled the state’s response. In return, thousands of families throughout the city of Flint have been harmed. As elected officials, we all have a responsibility to ensure the safety of our constituents, especially when it concerns some of our youngest and most vulnerable citizens, and the officials of Flint, Michigan failed to do so.”
According to the World Health Organization, excess lead exposure can damage a human’s nervous and reproductive systems and the kidneys, and can cause high blood pressure and anemia. Lead is especially harmful to the developing brains of fetuses, young children and to pregnant women, say health experts. Those exposed may face irreversible learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and mental retardation. At very high levels, lead can cause convulsions, coma and death.