POLITICS
12/16/2015 01:09 pm ET Updated Feb 10, 2017

Flint's Water Crisis Just Became A Double Emergency

Turns out declaring an emergency doesn't make the emergency go away.

JeCorey Hawkins had a scary moment with the water in Flint, Michigan, in September. The 22-year-old psychology student had stooped at a drinking fountain at his university when the water took on a grainy texture in his mouth.

"I was very creeped out because I didn't know if I would be sick," Hawkins told The Huffington Post on Tuesday. He said he and his family, which lives in Flint, hadn't been drinking tap water since earlier this year, though he trusted the University of Michigan's efforts to test and treat water on its Flint campus.

Flint's water problems turned out to be worse than most people realized when a local pediatrician reported in September that more children were being poisoned with lead, a dangerous neurotoxin. The continued problems with the water prompted Flint Mayor Karen Weaver to declare an emergency Tuesday.

"I am requesting that all things be done necessary to address this state of emergency declaration, effective immediately," Weaver said.

It's the second emergency declaration over toxic water for the beleaguered city -- Genesee County, which surrounds Flint, declared an emergency for the same reason back in October.

Jamie Curtis, chairman of the Genesee County Board of Commissioners, told HuffPost he didn't understand what Weaver hoped to achieve with her declaration, saying the mayor hadn't been in touch with any demands. He said the commission would take it up at its Jan. 4 meeting.

"I'm not sure what her declaration is," Curtis said. "What I don't think the people of Flint need ... is nothing more than rhetoric saying, 'I've declared this emergency,' but nothing comes of it."

The county's Oct. 1 declaration warned Flint residents not to drink the water unless it had been specially filtered and confirmed not to have high levels of lead.

The trouble started in 2014 when emergency managers appointed by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) decided to try saving money by switching Flint's water supply from the Detroit system to the Flint River. Local officials toasted the decision, though residents immediately complained about the taste, smell and appearance of what came from their taps. Most importantly, the new water turned out to be more corrosive, causing lead to leach from Flint's old pipes -- and into the city's kids.

Research published by Flint pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha in September showed levels of lead in children's blood spiked at the same time as the water switch. Elevated blood lead levels are especially harmful for children, who can suffer stunted growth and irreversible brain damage. In October, after denying any problem, state officials acknowledged they failed to treat the water to adjust for its corrosiveness, and Snyder signed legislation switching Flint back to Detroit's water.

The city has told residents it could take as long as six months for the water lead levels to decline.

A Dec. 11 report from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality said the state found elevated blood lead in 39 of 1,836 Flint residents who had testing done since early October. Blood lead levels can decline in a matter of weeks after a person is exposed to lead. 

This week, in response to Weaver's new disaster declaration, a spokesman for Snyder referred HuffPost to previous statements from the governor's office outlining actions already taken, including an Oct. 2
action plan and the Oct. 21 creation of a special task force to investigate what went wrong and recommend solutions.  
 
Hawkins wasn't impressed by the latest emergency declaration.
 
"It's kinda scary, but at the same time, it's like, the water has been this bad, you know, for all this time," he said. "They just decided to put a name to it at this point."
 
Hawkins has two younger sisters, 10 and 7 years old, who he said have suffered some hair loss, which is a common complaint among Flint residents who can't avoid bathing with the water.
 

"There is no reason for them to be losing hair at their age," Hawkins said.

This article has been updated with information from a Department of Environmental Quality report.

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