Citizens are supposed to be able to trust their elected governments, local, state and national. But, surveys show that Americans have very little trust in government. In fact, an October 2015 Pew Study shows that only 19% trust the federal government “all or most” of the time.
This brings us to Flint Michigan. Flint’s citizens have been drinking, cooking and bathing in poisonous water.
The decision to expose Flint residents to known risks of lead poisoning were made by an unaccountable “emergency manager” who was installed by the governor, Republican Rick Snyder, in order to solve the fiscal problems created by the city’s declining tax base.
In April 2014, Flint’s emergency manager, in order to save money, directed the water company to begin drawing water from the Flint River rather than from Detroit’s water system, which was deemed too costly ($1.5 million/month). But the river’s water was high in salt, which helped corrode Flint’s aging lead water pipes, leaching lead into the water supply.
Problems were apparent almost immediately: The water started to smell like rotten eggs. Engineers responded to that problem by increasing the chlorine level. GM discovered that city water was corroding engines at their 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. Yet as late as February 2015, even after tests showed dangerous lead levels, officials were telling residents there was no threat.
But in September 2015, two independent studies found that the lead levels in Flint’s water were absurdly high, and in October, 2015, Flint once again began buying water from Detroit.
On January 5th, 2016, Governor Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency due to lead in the water supply. The same day, the US 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 cold comfort for Flint residents, particularly children, who are being poisoned by lead, which can cause irreversible brain damage and affect physical health.
And it could cost $1.5 billion to fix the problem, a staggering sum for a city struggling financially like Flint. Worse, six months ago, Rick Snyder’s Chief of Staff knew about it and expressed concern:
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).
So, the Flint story is hands down one of the worst abuses of government power in a long time. Money took precedence over people’s health. An unaccountable emergency manager who in a possibly well-intended effort to save the city $1.5 million a month in water fees, changes the source to the Flint River. In December 2014, a city employee tested the water of a woman whose son had gotten a rash after swimming in a pool.
He found that the lead level in her water was 104 parts per billion, about seven times greater than the lead level the EPA deems “actionable.”
BTW, Michigan voters repealed the Emergency Manager Law in 2012, but the Republican-controlled state legislature then passed a more far-reaching, emergency-manager law, one that could not be repealed.
So, what conclusions can we draw? Could the failure in Flint be used by conservatives to say?
See? You can’t even trust government to provide you with clean water anymore. We need to privatize the water company right now!
Or, the really damning take away is the emergency manager tried to save some money in a way that actually requires more money be spent, but did it anyway, apparently after being told about the problem, which poisoned people!.
OTOH, the fine citizens of Michigan re-elected Mr. Snyder, who took away the democratically elected team in Flint, and granted power to his appointed Publican. But the voters are not to blame. It is one thing to accept some right-wing economic BS, or to be too lazy to vote.
The penalty for either of those shouldn’t be that your government poisons you and your children.
St. Ronnie told us government was the problem, not the solution. And Rick Snyder’s cost-cutting steps seem to prove Ronnie was right (at least if government is run by the GOP).
It is hard to care about “Islamic terrorism” when your government knowingly poisons your city’s water supply in order to save money (in the short term).
And what is the criminal penalty for 10,000 cases of child endangerment?