THE BLOG
02/03/2016 08:23 pm ET Updated Feb 03, 2017

The Flint Water Crisis -- Action Steps Needed Now

Mark Wilson via Getty Images

For the past two years, the 100,000 people of Flint, Michigan, have been forced to use a poisoned public water system, causing disabling and likely even fatal health effects.

Yet now -- despite an incomplete and ineffective patch-job of repair efforts -- the latest tests show highly toxic levels of lead contaminated water still flowing through the local water taps.

The human medical toll is steadily rising and the community-wide health risk continues, especially for vulnerable children now facing the threat of life long brain damage from the lead contaminated water.

The state officials who triggered this community water-poisoning catastrophe continue to offer excuses and half measures like ineffective faucet filters, and show no sign of an all-out effort to fully confront this public health emergency.

What has happened in Flint by State Government fiat was madness; and the abject failure to now fully remedy the problem is a monstrous dereliction of duty.

The Governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, needs to directly face these hard destructive truths and step forward to fully support three urgent action initiatives described below.

Two current news stories illuminate this crisis situation -- and what now must be done.

A recent Reuters news account indicates the FBI has joined the investigation of the Flint water crisis at the request of the U.S. Attorney in Detroit, Reuters noting that "the city was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager when it switched its source of tap water from Detroit's system to the Flint river in April 2014... The more corrosive water from the river leached more lead from the city pipes than Detroit water did."

This lead-poisoning damage to Flint's children was only later discovered by an alert Flint doctor who performed her own blood tests of children and found the alarming high levels of lead concentration in their blood. As lead in blood can cause severe and permanent brain damage in exposed children, her findings punched a hole in the often repeated Governmental assurance that the water was safe for human use.

Even a sudden and unusual spike in Legionnaires' Disease -- with at least nine reported deaths -- suspected by some to be caused by the contaminated water did not initially receive significant public attention or public warning from State health officials. In recent days, a $100 million lawsuit has been filed in behalf of the families which experienced the Legionnaires Disease deaths.

We can only wonder how many other serious or even fatal health episodes have been triggered over the past two years as people consumed and used the contaminated water while relying on official claims of its safety.

And now the Wall Street Journal of February 2 has reported that while Federal law requires that public water supplies must limit traces of lead contamination to no more than 15 parts per billion -- the most recent tests in January from Flint water taps show lead concentration levels far above the safe level. The Journal article reports that more than 30 test samples tested above 150 parts per billion -- over 10 times the allowable limit. Even worse, it reported an additional seven test locations where the lead levels exceeded 1,000 parts per billion.

Clearly no child -- or person of any age -- should be at risk to these astronomical levels of lead contamination from their local water supply.

So what must now be done? Three immediate steps are needed. None are easy; all are urgently required.

Health Assessment of All Flint Citizens

First, we must have a prompt individual health assessment of each person in Flint who has been consuming the contaminated water.

Individual blood tests and other appropriate health measurements need to be taken to see what abnormal health problems may now have been created in these individuals and then a medical determination of what kind of remedial health treatment may be required. This must cover people of all ages and regardless of ability to pay. It is known for example, that lead poisoning in adults can result in serious conditions of gout, respiratory illness and hypertension.

Only a community-wide individual health assessment -- and city-wide aggregate profile -- can tell us what health harm has been caused by the contaminated water and what may be needed for treatment.

Remove and Replace Lead Pipe Water Distribution System

Second, the old, damaged and corroded lead pipe water distribution system in Flint must be pulled out of the ground and replaced with safe new lead-free distribution pipes that can protect the flow of pure water directly into all local homes and businesses.

Not a single corroded lead pipe can be left in the distribution system, as any toxic leaching in one area can send poisoned water flow to unknown locations elsewhere. This contamination risk cannot be permitted.

This task of removing the dangerous and corroded lead distribution pipes must be done with urgency -- just as quickly as work can start, because each day those damaged lead pipes remain in place presents a clear and present danger to anyone using the local water supply.

The lead pipe removal and replacement task is a big job -- and expensive. But whatever the cost -- and however it is funded -- it must start immediately. It would seem that the Michigan State Government which created this health emergency with their mandated directives should now bear the direct financial responsibility for fixing the problem they created.

Federal financial help should also be made available -- and promptly -- to help mitigate this environmental and public health disaster and the continuing medical risks to the citizens of Flint.

Full Legal Review and Determination of Responsibility

A third necessary step is to have all the legal justice units of Government -- Federal, State and local -- fully engaged, using whatever resources are necessary to reconstruct all the decisions and actions that led to this water poisoning/public health catastrophe and determine why false assurances of water safety were given to the citizens of Flint for some two years while the systematic contaminated poisoning of the Flint water supply was occurring.

This complete trail of events and official conduct must be fully established with depositions under oath, subpoenas as necessary, and all relevant email traffic and all other relevant communications provided -- without redactions, claims of executive privilege, or exemptions from freedom of information requests.

When people are poisoned by misguided and severely damaging official actions and decisions -- which result in innocent lives being impaired or lost -- then there must be a full and accurate recounting of what transpired. All the cards in the deck must be turned face up so we can see exactly how this community tragedy was created, so those responsible are held to account and so that proper attention and redress is provided, including full medical treatment; and that every needed step is taken to re-establish and sustain a pure water distribution supply in Flint.

And beyond these necessary immediate steps -- there must also be a commitment from all levels of government to do what is needed to help restore the economic viability of the community as a whole -- now that it has been so severely damaged.

The people of the city of Flint deserve no less, and it is the duty of government to rectify its own errors and accept the responsibility to correct and restore what has been damaged.

People's faith in government depends upon the good faith of the government toward the people they serve and the proper exercise of what is termed "the duty of care."

Faith in government can only endure if government itself demonstrates its good faith toward the citizens it serves. The highest obligation of any public official is the "duty of care," which is only met when government officials honor and protect the health and well-being of its citizens.

Tragically, that standard was violated in Flint. It now must be redeemed.