I am a Democratic state legislator in Michigan and my district includes the city of Flint. Most people know that Flint has been suffering from a man-made drinking water crisis since April 2014. The response to this crisis was slow, from all levels of government, and some agencies even attempted to cover it up. My motivation for this editorial is not to assign blame to any individual or government body, and I am not trying to reveal any shocking new evidence in this tragedy. Instead, I am writing to give a brief update on where the ongoing crisis in Flint stands, and to lay out why I think our new president may be capable of creating a new narrative for Flint residents.
As I write this, Flint residents are still drinking bottled water, despite state officials claiming that it is safe to drink from the tap — as long as it’s filtered, that is. Residents simply aren’t willing to trust the same government that rudely insisted their water was safe to drink for nearly two years, before finally admitting it was not.
These residents are also being given conflicting information from both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ).
This January, I attended a town hall meeting sponsored by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. There, residents were told they can now drink their water with a filter, however they should not drink the water — even if it is filtered — if service pipelines are getting replaced in their general area.
This became even more complicated when those organizing the pipe replacements told residents that they aren’t completely replacing pipes in any one area of the city at a given time. Instead, they will be using a shotgun approach, in which many small areas of the city will be undergoing replacement work at all times.
By the end of the town hall, officials concluded that, based on their current pace, it will take at least three more years to replace a total of 18,000 service lines. Therefore, Flint residents should expect to be unable to drink their water until around the year 2020, despite paying one of the highest rates in the nation for that water.
The frustration among those still living in the city is palpable, and has recently been compounded by the announcement that they will no longer receive a reduction in their water bills, as the state has terminated the aid it began providing to the city in response to the crisis last year. Please keep in mind that most residents have been carting in water by the case, week after week, year after year, to meet all of their family’s needs. As we approach the fourth year of this crisis, nothing has changed for them.
Lead and toxic total trihalomethanes (TTHMs) have been widely reported by the media as being the main issue for the government to confront in this crisis. If that were the case, this situation might be slightly more manageable for both the government and Flint residents, but those pollutants are merely one portion of the toxic qualities of Flint’s drinking water.
When the city began using the Flint River as its sole source for drinking water, the need to make major improvements to the city’s water treatment plant were outright ignored by our leaders. The MDEQ knew the city’s treatment system was incapable of safely treating water for consumption, yet they allowed this switch to proceed anyway.
The inadequate treatment process turned the city’s water pipes into a breeding ground for multiple types of deadly bacteria, which in turn has been linked as the cause of death for at least a dozen human lives, making many more extremely ill. While it may be true that we are now getting the lead and TTHM levels under control, we still don’t know what other bacteria continues to circulate beneath the streets of Flint. Is there deadly bacteria in the transmission system and water mains that aren’t even slated for replacement? Are families at risk because their water heaters are also contaminated? If they are, who will help cover the cost for replacing them?
More than 40 percent of Flint residents live in poverty. We can’t afford to cover the tab for the state’s mistake. Residents are still outraged, and they are ready for help from anyone who will step up to provide it.
The government is yet again saying things are back on track, but they are not.
As my community continues to struggle, I can’t ignore the olive branch that was extended last fall when then-candidate Donald Trump visited a solidly Democratic city, where he was unlikely to earn any votes, and promised he would provide us with the desperately needed relief that we’re still waiting for. I, for one, was very surprised to hear Trump comment on the water crisis in Flint when he visited last fall. To me, his remarks sounded more like those of our local residents, calling out potential corruption and scandal. He was extremely critical of the decisions made by government officials in the run up to the crisis, and the botched cover up attempts made afterward. He was unapologetic in his aggressive remarks, and wasn’t afraid to call out those responsible.
The president has made it known that he intends to follow through on his campaign promises. Now that we are three months into his presidency, I am urging the president to fulfill another of his campaign promises: helping to fix Flint. When he visited last September, he publicly acknowledged the hardships Flint residents are facing, citing that “Flint’s pain is the result of so many different failures,” noting that this crisis has both mentally and physically hurt families. He continued to state that “in the strongest of terms … the damage can be corrected by people who know what they are doing.”
The federal government has provided assistance to Flint, and I assure you we are very grateful for it. However, it is still far short of what we hoped for, and it isn’t enough to make our drinking water safe again. Moving forward, I hope there will be a stronger partnership between various levels of the federal government to assist Flint with more than just water or blood level testing. To truly help the people of Flint, it will take much more than service lines being replaced.
When Trump visited in September, he also promised to bring jobs back to Flint. I, for one, welcome a partner in the White House that is willing to negotiate for more manufacturing jobs to return to the Vehicle City. Over the last few decades, Michigan residents have watched our jobs be shipped overseas in the name of cutting costs. Why not bring those jobs back home, and reinvigorate our local economies so that we can help ourselves, too?
It would be a welcomed change for Flint’s economy to be centered on more than just one industry or corporation. The addition of those jobs could help pull Flint residents out of poverty, and equip them with the tools needed to help us rebuild our city.
Trump made a campaign promise to get Flint “fixed quickly and effectively” if he was elected, but promises are nothing more than words unless followed up by action. When I was elected in 2013, I made a promise to help the people in my district live healthy, productive lives. Even though my ideologies differ from those of our new president, I swore an oath to represent my district and their interests, and I will not let partisan grievances get in the way of a path to recovery for Flint.
President Trump, please consider this an open invitation to make good on your word. If you do, I promise to work with you any way I can, that way we both will be delivering on our promises to fix Flint once and for all.