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Thursday
Feb112016

Flint: Water and Safety

Michigan Public Act 436 was passed, in December of 2012, to “safeguard and assure the financial accountability of local units of government and school districts”.  There have been similar laws in the past in Michigan, for years, but this law was passed as a part of an appropriations bill after a previous law was rejected by voters in a referendum in November of 2012. 

This new law, the Local Fiscal Stability and Choice Act (Public Act 436) allows the Governor to declare a financial emergency after a review has taken place based on the requirements of the law.  If a financial emergency is declared, the local government must choose between 4 options (i.e., a consent agreement, an emergency manager, neutral evaluation or chapter 9 bankruptcy).  Critics have argued that none of the options provide enough power to the local government.  For example, once an Emergency Manager is appointed, he or she can:

  • develop or amend financial operating plans for a local government,
  • modify, renegotiate, or terminate contracts,
  • remove departments heads and administrators in local governments,
  • enter into agreements with other localities to offer services or to transfer functions,
  • etc…

The Michigan Department of Treasury currently lists 12 municipalities and 5 school districts that are in a status of financial emergency, under this law.  The majority of them are municipalities or school districts with a large percentage of African Americans.

According to Census data, the make-up of African Americans in those areas is as follows:

  1. City of Highland Park - 93.5%
  2. City of Benton Harbor - 89.2%
  3. City of Detroit - 82.7%
  4. City of Inkster - 73.2%
  5. City of Flint - 56.6%
  6. City of Pontiac - 52.1%
  7. City of Ecorse - 46.4%
  8. Wayne County - 39.3%
  9. City of Hamtrack - 19.3%
  10. City of Lincoln Park - 5.9%
  11. City of Allen Park - 2.1%
  12. Royal Oak Township (Royal City Census data - 4.3%)

All five of the school districts in financial emergency (Benton Harbor, Pontiac, Detroit, Muskegon Heights, and Highland Park) have majority African-American populations in their cities, according to Census data.

When an emergency manager is in place he or she handles all aspects of the operations of the local government.  In fact, the Emergency Manager acts “for and in the place…of the governing” bodies of the local government.  

Once the Emergency Manager is appointed, the governing entities of a local government (e.g., the mayor and the city council) are prohibited from exercising the powers of their offices without the approval of the Emergency Manager, in writing.  As you can see, this gives an enormous amount of power to one person, who is not elected by citizens.

So, in November of 2011, Flint was assigned a new Emergency Manager (Flint has already experienced this back in 2002) and for the next 3 1/2 years a series of emergency managers took responsibility for the day-to-day operations of the city of Flint.

The decision was made to find a more economical source of water for the city of Flint.  For almost fifty years Flint had been receiving its water through Detroit’s system—which came directly from Lake Huron.  Additionally, the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA) was about to begin working on a pipeline that could bring water directly from Lake Huron to Flint, but the pipeline wouldn’t be finished for another couple of years.  

A short-term fix would be needed—the city could either stay with Detroit’s water system which could cost about $12 million or more or the city could find a more economical source for its water, while the KWA pipeline was being built.

It was determined that the Flint River would be the short-term source for the city’s water and on April 25, 2014 Flint switched to its river as its main source of water.

Almost immediately people began complaining…some said they noticed a smell coming from their water…others said that their water was discolored or that it was making them sick.  

Officials continued to assure the citizens of Flint that their water was safe and they were told not to worry.

Reports indicate that emails were sent within Gov. Snyder's administration that raised concerns about the safety of the water in October 2014, after General Motors announced it would no longer use Flint River water due to the corrosive effects it might have on its machines.

As time went on other reports indicate that anti-corrosive agents were never added to the system in Flint, once the city's water supply was switched to the Flint River.  This was not done despite federal requirements to treat such systems with anti-corrosive agents to prevent lead from leaching from pipes into the water.  

Hurley Doctor (Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha) Recommends Switching Away from Flint River Water, MLive.com

Residents continued to experience serious health-related issues and more children began testing positive for unsafe levels of lead in their blood.  An unexplained rise in Legionnaires' disease also took place during this time.

I would venture to say that if these were members of Congress complaining of rashes, headaches, seizures, and the color, taste, and smell of their water, that authorities would have acted more immediately and more forcefully.

The people of Flint need to be made whole and the necessary support should be given to the children of Flint throughout the rest of their lives.

What We Know about Lead

Lead is a poison and a neurotoxin—it is an element on the Periodic Table of Elements and, therefore, it does not break down in the human body nor in the environment.  

"There is no safe level of lead in children and the “effects of lead exposure cannot be corrected”, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Lead poisoning can cause:

  • damage to the nervous system,
  • a shortening of the attention span,
  • lowering of a person’s IQ,
  • hearing damage and speech problems,
  • behavioral disorders (that may be linked to criminal activity),
  • irreversible damage to the brain,
  • and, in high levels, seizures and possibly death.

Despite putting measures in place to prevent lead poisoning, decades ago, it is still a problem.  In the U.S. “children living at or below the poverty line who live in older housing are at greatest risk”.

African Americans and other ethnic groups are disproportionately affected by this hazard and this is well-known by health officials.

The fact that city officials in Flint did not take appropriate precautions in protecting the children and residents of the city of Flint from a known danger is criminal.

We talk about how we put people first, but our actions speak louder than our words.  Let us see if money is the major priority as the nation looks to address the mind-boggling events that took place in Flint over the last year and a half.

Infographic on lead from the CDC.

 

Copyright, Red and Black Ink, LLC, 2016.

References:

Adams, Dominic.  “Flint River now an option for drinking water following Detroit's termination of contract”. MLive, July 23, 2013.  http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2013/07/city_readying_water_plant_to_t.html

Adams, Dominic.  “Gov. Snyder calls for return of powers to Flint Mayor Karen Weaver”.  MLive. January 15, 2016.  http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2016/01/gov_rick_snyder_restores_some.html#incart_related_stories

Brush, Mark. Williams, Rebecca. Smith, Lindsey.  Scullen, Lindsey.  “TIMELINE: Here's how the Flint water crisis unfolded”.  Michigan Radio, December 21, 2015.  http://michiganradio.org/post/timeline-heres-how-flint-water-crisis-unfolded#stream/0

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lead:  Information for Parents.  http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/parents.htm

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Lead.  http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/default.htm

Flint Water Study.  “Lead testing results for water sampled by residents”.  Accessed February 2016.  http://flintwaterstudy.org/information-for-flint-residents/results-for-citizen-testing-for-lead-300-kits/

Gibb, Terry.  “Understanding the “Emergency Manager” option in P.A. 436.”, Michigan State University Extension. July 29, 2013.  http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/understanding_the_emergency_manager_option_in_pa_436

Karoub, Jeff.  “Michigan Emergency Manager Bill Approved By State Senate”.  Huffpost Politics, December 14, 2012.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/14/michigan-emergency-manager-bill_n_2299782.html?utm_hp_ref=politics

Lewis, Jack.  Lead Poisoning: A Historical Perspective.  EPA Journal - May 1985.  http://www.epa.gov/aboutepa/lead-poisoning-historical-perspective

Michigan Department of Treasury.  How a Financial Emergency Works.  http://www.michigan.gov/treasury/0,4679,7-121-1751_51556-198770--,00.html

Michigan Public Act No. 436.  STATE OF MICHIGAN 96TH LEGISLATURE REGULAR SESSION OF 2012.  http://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/2011-2012/publicact/pdf/2012-PA-0436.pdf

Roy, Siddhartha. “MASSWMI Resolution Statement on the Flint Water Crisis: Meeting the Needs of Students in the School Setting in an Ongoing Public Health Crisis”.  Flint Water Study, February 3, 2016.  http://flintwaterstudy.org/2016/02/masswmi-resolution-statement-on-the-flint-water-crisis-meeting-the-needs-of-students-in-the-school-setting-in-an-ongoing-public-health-crisis/

Scorsone, Eric, Ph.D.  Frequently Asked Questions About the New Michigan Local Financial Emergency Law.  Michigan State University Extension, accessed February 11, 2016.  http://msue.anr.msu.edu/uploads/236/25914/FAQ-WhyNewLawWasPassed.pdf

United States Census Bureau.  Quick Facts: Flint city, Michigan. http://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/2629000,00

Vendatam, Shankar.  “Research Links Lead Exposure, Criminal Activity”.  Washington Post, July 8, 2007.