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Opinion, Politics

The Flint water crisis and environmental racism

Michigan governor Rick Snyder under federal investigation

FLINT, Michigan — Off the shores of the Great Lakes, which provide the largest bodies of fresh water in the world, the Flint water crisis has manifested and environmental racism may be to blame. This Flint water crisis has prompted federal emergency action. Elevated levels of lead poisoning among children and other health concerns, such as legionnaires disease has claimed the lives of 10 people. Last week, President Obama declared a state of emergency in Flint and announced plans to send $80 million in aid as state lawmakers approved $28 million to help the Flint water crisis. Now Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is facing heavy criticism as accusations of environmental racism have prompted a federal investigation. 

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The Flint water crisis started in 2014 as a cost-cutting measure while the city was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager. When the emergency manager switched the water supply from Detroit, which originates from Lake Huron, and began pumping water from the Flint River, residents immediately noticed a change in their water quality.  They reported a foul stench and a dark rust color. Soon after, many people became sick and developed skin rashes while state officials ignored their initial complaints of the tainted water.This was the first sign of the Flint water crisis.

However, state officials did eventually respond and to combat high levels of fecal coliform and E. coli, the city increased the amount of chlorine pumped into the water system. As a result, further testing revealed a concerning level of trihalomethanes (TTHM), a contaminant made up of four chemicals that formulate when heavily treated water mixes with debris and garbage. As dangerous levels of bacteria began to multiply, toxic amounts of lead seeped out of the pipes and into the Flint water supply, causing the Flint water crisis.

The Flint River has a well-known history of industrialized pollution. According to Rolling Stone Magazine, “factories had been dumping sludge and crud into the river for decades,” stated Stephen Rodrick. He goes on to explain that “this man-made disaster can be traced to one fact: Republicans not giving a shit about poor kids as much as they give a shit about the green of the bottom line.” But it is not just the slow response and denial from the government that reveals the reasons for concern rather how this political infrastructure came to be.  

In 2011, when Gov. Rick Snyder first took office, he allowed the state to take over the management of economically troubled cities like Flint and Detroit. “Part of the state’s reasoning for the takeovers was that it needed to step in to provide for the safety and welfare of citizens,” stated Rodrick. This means that elected city officials like the mayor and council members were stripped of their power and replaced by emergency managers. These state appointed emergency managers have been long criticized for being undemocratic and have been a source of controversy in the state because they’re not representative of the communities that they serve.    

The investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office comes more than a year after the switch was made to the Flint River under the control of a state appointed emergency manager. Many suspect foul play and demand the removal of Snyder from office. “The racial quotient of the crisis has also been controversial, with critics of the government’s response saying that something like this would never happen in a predominantly white, affluent area,” stated MLIVE reporter, John Counts. The competency of government and their attitudes toward healthcare and the environment in a majority-black city where more than 40% of residents live below the poverty line are reflected in the inaction of leadership as the water crisis in Flint, Michigan has left many with unanswered questions. 

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