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Reverend Compares Michigan City's Drinking Water Issues To The Holocaust

03/06/2015 09:17 am ET | Updated Mar 06, 2015

Tap water in Flint, Michigan meets federal standards and is safe to drink, testing confirmed last month. But continued complaints from residents about its poor quality has prompted multiple protests -- and a comparison likening the questionable water to both the Holocaust and slavery.

Rev. Charles Williams II, president of the Michigan chapter of the National Action Network, made the comment at a press conference and bottled water handout in Flint Monday, NBC 25 reports.

In a follow-up with FOX 2, Williams said forcing Flint residents to buy bad water is “just as unjust as slavery. That's just as unjust as genocide. An injustice is an injustice."

Issues with water quality in Flint stretch back to last year, but were made official in January when residents were notified that the city was in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act. Water tested at the end of 2014 contained unacceptable levels of trihalomethanes (TTHM), chemicals that are a byproduct of chlorine.

At the time, the city said water was safe to drink, but advised the elderly, parents of infants and anyone with a “severely compromised immune system” to consult a doctor because they may be at increased risk.

The chlorine that led to an overabundance of TTHM chemicals was used as a disinfectant; Flint increased the level of chlorine in its drinking water last year to fight bacteria. Health risks associated with drinking water that contains excessive quantities of TTHM over multiple years include cancer, as well as liver, kidney and central nervous system issues, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Residents have reported skin problems and rashes seemingly caused by the water. Others have complained about headaches, hair loss, odor, and water that is cloudy or a startling shade of brown. According to the Detroit Free Press, the discoloration is likely unrelated to the TTHM levels, and instead caused by calcium and iron from pipes in the city’s aging water system.

Flint used to buy pre-treated water from Detroit, but in a cost-cutting measure last year officials decided to build a pipeline to Lake Huron so the city could get its own water. The city has been getting its water from the Flint River since April as the pipeline project progresses.

Many Flint residents might not have used Williams’ rhetoric, but plenty are seriously concerned about their water, and have been since the city made the switch last year. They have held continual protests and community events -- one attended by a water expert for Erin Brockovich -- and are not mollified by test results in February that showed TTHM levels were back below the federal maximum.

"I don't even let my dogs drink this water,” resident Rick Holtstander told the Associated Press.

General Motors stopped using Flint water at a local plant in October. They said high chloride levels in the drinking water were causing corrosion, according to WNEM.

In a statement issued to MLive, the city said officials share Williams’ frustrations, but think his "accusations are a gross misrepresentation of the Flint water condition and a wholly inappropriate comparison."

Flint has formed a Water Advisory Committee and hired a consultant, who on Wednesday recommended changes to infrastructure and the chemicals used to treat the water.

In a statement following last month's test results, Department of Public Works Director Howard Croft said staff will be “vigilant” about water safety.

Findings by the [Michigan Department of Environmental Quality] reinforce the progress we have made, and should help rebuild confidence in the safety of Flint’s drinking water,” Croft said.

Last month, the state of Michigan awarded Flint $2 million to upgrade its water system.

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