By Abbey Soltis & Molly Swartz
For the past three years, the citizens of Flint, Michigan have been experiencing the side effects of lead-contaminated water. Residents are getting sick, children have high amounts of lead in their bloodstream, and people are being forced to buy excessive amounts of bottled water for everyday necessities such as showering, cooking, and cleaning.
In April of 2014, Flint authorities switched their main water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River. As a result of the more corrosive river water, lead pipes have been leaking and contaminating the water used by the town. According to the State of Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the river water has always been of poor quality, especially after the 1970’s, due to the “presence of fecal coliform bacteria, low dissolved oxygen, plant nutrients, oils, and toxic substances” (Flint River Assessment, July 2001). The presence of lead in the water has lead to stunts in child cognitive development; many studies in the past several years have indicated defects in the growth of the young children of Flint in speaking or writing compared to other children their age. Some neurological disorders, such as ADHD, have affected the education systems in Flint, and have ultimately cost the city a great amount of money. The city of Flint is already bankrupt, but it is now necessary to provide funding for the children who have been affected by lead poisoning to receive the proper necessities to earn an education and obtain a job.
Reading the facts of this case, one might be shocked at how Flint officials and the EPA were able to get away with the contamination of the city’s water for as long as they did. However, by researching more deeply, one can see the possible enabler of such an ignored catastrophe- Flint’s distinct demographic status. According to the US Census Bureau, 41.2% of Flint residents live below the poverty line. This shocking statistic reflects on the officials in charge of the water quality in towns such as Flint. Dr. Shepard, a science teacher at Glenelg High School, believes that the crisis “highlights the failure of our infrastructure in the United States.” During an interview, she elaborated on the idea that poor people in the United States rarely get counted in public decisions. She also commented on how the contamination would not have gone on for nearly as long if the citizens were wealthy, because wealthy people would have had more political-say, and the EPA would have been forced to discontinue the use of the Flint River as the source for the city’s water.
An anonymous teacher at Glenelg High School stated their belief that the crisis occurred because of the demographics of the city. This teacher, in concurrence with Dr. Sheppard, believes that the poorer people of Flint were taken advantage of because of a multitude of factors, including lack of education and ability to stand up in front of a court for their rights.
The inexcusable actions committed by the officials in charge of Flint pose questions for all citizens of America. What if other water is contaminated? What if one’s friends and family are being harmed, and will suffer irreversible cognitive deficits due to the government’s unwillingness to spend money? Did the Flint Water Crisis occur for political reasons? Or a financial issue? Due to Flint’s water crisis, there is a debate as to whether or not the rest of the country can trust the EPA with drinking water. It is important that citizens question everything. Residents of Flint were falsely assured about the quality of their water, and ultimately suffered because of the EPA and the Federal Government. Flint, Michigan is the quintessential example of neglect of poor individuals in the US. This should be the last time people in the United States are ignored because of their socioeconomic status.