In a follow up to previous articles on this tragedy, the Flint, Michigan water crisis is back in the mainstream news cycle. A total of five government employees have been charged with manslaughter including the head of the Michigan health department.
These charges stem from their role in the water crisis where lead contaminants left residents deathly ill. The residents got sick from Legionnaires disease, which is a respiratory condition and type of pneumonia that is caused by a few factors, but was connected to the lead contamination of the water supply in Flint.
The news media was speculating about who may be charged next in this investigation into one of the worst public health disasters in American history and whether those charges would reach the Governor of Michigan. It is not known how much the Governor knew, or when he was informed of certain developments surrounding the crisis with the water supply in that beleaguered city.
The water crisis in Flint represented a calamity on so many levels between the negligence being alleged, the lack of adequate training for local city water officials, and then the steps taken when the problems with the contamination were verified. The result is a massive problem with the water supply of an entire city and reports of illness across the demographics from the elderly, to women, teenagers, children, and babies.
It is a very public example of failure of public governance in the area of public health and safety. That is the key message behind the charges handed down to the five public officials accused of these serious offenses. The fact that the water from the Flint River supply source was not treated properly caused lead to be emitted from the older pipes in the system. The damage is costly with estimates running at around anywhere from $55 to $95 million to replace all of the pipes which provide drinking water to residents and other structures in Flint.
Most of that money is going to come from lawsuits filed by the residents against the EPA primarily and the state has pledged to replace the water lines that connect to the main distribution and pipe systems for 18,000 homes by 2020.
That is all well and good but the question remains: what will residents do in the interim? The water crisis has decimated an already depressed market for real estate in Flint. In essence, nobody wants to move there and the residents cannot sell their homes to relocate elsewhere. It is a total mess, with the fallout so far – reaching it is hard to fathom.
There have been accounts of government officials concealing evidence regarding the toxicity levels of the water, which is greatly concerning for obvious reasons. The entire situation has both frustrated and saddened Americans across the country as well as triggered the investigation into lead levels in other cities and counties.
The situation in Flint is tragic and heartbreaking and is unique to other public health issues that came before it for a variety of reasons. First, it was widespread and encompassed an entire American city which is rare for a public health issue which are usually confined to a specific area or neighborhood.
Second, it was so intricately covered up for years by different levels of government from the local, county, and state level as well as involving the EPA. The levels of lead and other toxins in the Flint River have now been well documented. The situation with that water supply was so bad that General Motors stopped using that water supply for their factory in Flint.
The final main component of this whole disastrous situation, at least in the scope of the general public, is that the damage is already done. The water supply has made many people sick with some unable to work, children have been so ill they have dropped out of school, and some people died in relation to the contaminated water supply.
The city and state level of government can issue all the statements they want about how the water supply has been changed back to the Detroit water supply which Flint used for decades before the cost-cutting switch to the local supply took place. The damage has already been done, just because the supply has changed, the pipes are still leaching chemicals and lead so they must be replaced.
The people who are sick and who have sick children or sick parents from tainted water cannot be cured by a switch in water supply or by issuing statements about correcting the problem three years from now. They are sick, that damage has been done, and there is no going back.
Some within the media have dubbed the situation in Flint as the “crisis with no end in sight” because of the sheer scope of the problems caused by the tainted water and the brazen way that the government tried to prevent the people from knowing about the problems which existed.
The attorney general for the State of Michigan has vowed that he is not done with the investigation they are conducting into this disaster. He stated after these first four arrests were announced that they will have more charges handed down to others involved in the coming months.
The federal government has taken no responsibility for helping the effort to be resolved, and some feel that they should provide some type of funding more than the band-aid funds sent about a year ago.
The “crisis with no end in sight” will continue on in a variety of levels in Flint between the government, the public health implications, and the restoration effort for their water supply pipe system. The investigation into this horrible tragedy has a long way to go before it is concluded. In the interim, thousands of American families have had their lives altered in terrible ways and also see no end in sight.