The city of Flint, Mich. is currently facing an environmental disaster, as authorities have declared the local water system has been contaminated by lead and copper poisoning. The situation is so bad that the city is giving out free water filters to local residents. Mayor Karen Weaver has called the situation an “emergency.”
Flint, which is 60 percent Black, is still dealing with the consequences of decisions made by Ed Kurtz, an emergency manager appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder, and the city council. Emergency managers are appointed to run economically-distressed towns and poorly-performing school districts.
Snyder’s decision to appoint several managers to oversee troubled Michigan municipalities has proven to be controversial. According to Democracy Now!, 52 percent of Black Michigan residents lived in areas overseen by emergency managers from 2013-14. Only 2 percent of white residents lived under emergency managers.
In 2013, the Flint city council voted 7-1 to stop buying water from Detroit, and start receiving water from the Karegnondi Water Authority according to MLive.com. The decision was supposed to save the city $19 million over eight years. Kurtz signed off on the decision. However, the new water system would not be ready for three years, so the city turned to the local Flint River as a source of water. This plan was implemented by state-appointed emergency manager Darnell Earley.
However, soon after the switch to the new water supply, residents started complaining about foul-smelling water. They also reported water that was brown and yellow. Four months after the switch, the city told residents to boil their water, because it was contaminated with fecal coliform bacteria. The water was so bad that General Motors said they would no longer use it in their plant because of fears it would cause corrosion.
Flint residents have reported devastating health effects from the contaminated water. LeeAnne Walters told Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman that her family broke out in rashes that looked like chemical burns from using the water. Melissa Mayes said she has seen changes in the academic performance of her children.
“Well, my sons, all three of them, are very bright. They had a great future going. Their school—their grades in school were fantastic. My oldest is actually taking high school and college classes at the same time, so he scored so well, he was able to do that, so he would have an associate’s degree by the time he graduated high school,” Mayes said. “Well, now he’s struggling. He needs a tutor. And he has a C average, which is unheard of for him. And he’s really getting down on himself, because he’s missing small things, pluses and minuses in algebra, little small things, because of brain fog.”
Mulenga Harangua, who designs and sells T-shirts, told Metro Times columnist Larry Gabriel the polluted water would have long-term consequences for Flint.
“It’s a lifetime for those kids,” Harangua said. “Mayor Weaver says this is going to cause a greater need for special education, mental health services, and some accommodation from the juvenile justice system.”
He was also scathing in his criticism of Gov. Rick Snyder, saying he needs to be arrested for the Flint water situation.
“This abomination lies squarely at the feet of Gov. Snyder. No, not at his feet, it’s in his heart and soul, his psyche,” Harangua said. “He was warned that the water from the Flint River would leach lead from the pipes without fixing them for that use. He poisoned the residents of Flint in order to save some money. It’s heartless, cruel, and I would hazard to say criminal.”
Filmmaker Michael Moore’s criticism of Snyder was even harsher.
“This is a racial killing. Flint MI is 60% black. When u knowingly poison a black city, u r committing a version of genocide,” he said in a tweet.