President Barack Obama acknowledged the seriousness of the Flint, Mich. water crisis this weekend by declaring the area a federal emergency, making it eligible for $5 million in aid.
However, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who requested federal aid on Thursday, is facing increasing calls to step down over his handling of the crisis. The situation has been blamed on the actions of Snyder-appointed emergency managers who decided to save money by switching Flint from the Detroit water system to the polluted Flint River. The river was known to contain corpses and shopping carts, and the local General Motors plant refused to use it because it corroded their engines. Flint Mayor Karen Weaver has described the results of the emergency managers’ decisions as a “man-made disaster.”
After the switch, Flint residents reported brown and yellow water flowing through their taps. When they drank it, it tasted foul and when they bathed in it, they reported rashes. Pediatrician Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha also began to notice elevated lead levels in Flint’s children.
“So you had a more corrosive water source without the corrosion control added to it, going into an aging infrastructure with a lot of lead plumbing,” said Hanna-Attisha in an interview with NPR’s Michel Martin. “That was a perfect storm for that lead to leach out of the pipes into the drinking water and into the bodies of children.”
Officials at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality initially dismissed residents’ complaints about the water. Two high-ranking MDEQ officials have already resigned. More residents are calling for Snyder to do the same. Flint resident Nayyirah Shariff was one of several protesters who gathered outside Snyder’s office demanding he step down.
“This happened under his watch. His agencies covered it up, and he can flush his apology down the toilet because it’s — that’s all it’s worth,” Shariff said.
Democratic presidential candidate Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has also called for Snyder’s resignation.
“There are no excuses. The governor long ago knew about the lead in Flint’s water. He did nothing. As a result, hundreds of children were poisoned. Thousands may have been exposed to potential brain damage from lead. Gov. Snyder should resign,” said Sanders in a statement on his website. “Because of the conduct by Gov. Snyder’s administration and his refusal to take responsibility, families will suffer from lead poisoning for the rest of their lives. Children in Flint will be plagued with brain damage and other health problems. The people of Flint deserve more than an apology.”
Oscar-winning filmmaker Michael Moore, who is a native of Flint, has been calling for Snyder’s resignation for weeks.
Moore participated in a rally in Flint over the weekend where he demanded Snyder’s arrest.
“I am standing in the middle of a crime scene …,” Moore told Mlive.com. “Ten people have been killed … because of a decision to save money.”
According to Mlive, public health officials are trying to determine if an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease that killed 10 people in Genesee County is related to the contaminated water.
Although the decision to switch to the Flint River as a water source was done to reduce spending, it will likely cost Flint more money. NPR reported it will take about $760 million to fix the damage done to the city’s water infrastructure.