Flint’s Mayor declares state of emergency as lead poisoning cases increase in wake of water fiasco

washpostflintIn hopes of attracting federal public health resources to Flint, where an alarmingly large portion of the population is suffering from lead poisoning as a result of the government’s mismanagement of water resources, the city’s new Mayor, Karen Weaver, declared a state of emergency last night. This comes just months after Flint’s Hurley Medical Center released research findings which appear to show that, since the decision was made in 2014 to stop sourcing water from Detroit, and instead send water from the Flint River into people’s homes, there has been a significant rise in the blood lead levels of children under the age of five.

Here, for those of you unaware of the history, and the role of the Snyder administration, is a clip from the Detroit Free Press on how all of this came to pass:

…On March 25, 2013, then-state Treasurer Andy Dillon and Gov. Rick Snyder’s chief of staff, Dennis Muchmore, held a telephone conversation about “Flint water supply alternatives,” according to records obtained by the Free Press under FOIA.

Later that evening, the Flint City Council, which was under a state-appointed emergency manager, voted 7-1 in favor of a switch in the source of its water supply from the City of Detroit to a new Karegnondi Water Authority, a move that would ultimately lead to Flint using corrosive water from the Flint River as an interim source, which produced drinking water with unsafe levels of lead…

This, we were told by the emergency manager placed in control of Flint by Governor Snyder, was done in order to save money. [Clean drinking water was apparently just too expensive for the people of Flint, who were millions of dollars in debt.] In the long run, officials said, the people of Flint would be getting their water from Lake Huron, but, for a few years, while this new system was being built, they’d have water from the Flint River delivered to their homes. Not long after throwing the switch, however, the people of Flint began to realize that something wasn’t right… The following clip comes from a Michigan Radio feature that ran yesterday about the experience of Lee Anne Walters, a mother of four in Flint, who, after being told repeatedly that her sick children were just suffering from scabies, finally had her water tested, revealing lead levels several times higher than the accepted limit. [While no level of lead is considered safe, lead generally isn’t considered a real health risk in water until it surpasses 15 parts per billion. The first test of the water at the Walters’ home was 104 parts per billion. A followup test pegged it at 397 parts per billion.]

…With numbers like that, Lee Anne Walters did what probably any mother would do. She took her kids to the doctor to get tested for lead.

When the tests came back, the diagnosis wasn’t good for Gavin. The doctors said he had lead poisoning.

“After the fact, knowing I was giving this to my kids makes me sick, because we should be able to trust the fact that we’re paying for this service,” she says. “And we should be able to trust the fact that it’s not going to harm our kids.”…

And the effects of lead in these quantities can be devastating. According to the World Health Organization, “lead affects children’s brain development resulting in reduced intelligence quotient (IQ), behavioral changes such as shortening of attention span and increased antisocial behavior, and reduced educational attainment. Lead exposure also causes anemia, hypertension, renal impairment, immunotoxicity and toxicity to the reproductive organs. The neurological and behavioral effects of lead are believed to be irreversible.”

In spite of the growing evidence, the initial response from elected officials was to deny that there was a problem… The following comes from a feature in today’s Washington Post.

…Although city and state officials initially denied that the water was unsafe, the state issued a notice informing Flint residents that their water contained unlawful levels of trihalomethanes, a chlorine byproduct linked to cancer and other diseases…

Through continued demonstrations by Flint residents and mounting scientific evidence of the water’s toxins, city and state officials offered various solutions — from asking residents to boil their water to providing them with water filters — in an attempt to work around the need to reconnect to the Detroit system.

That call was finally made by Snyder (R) on Oct. 8. He announced that he had a plan for coming up with the $12 million to switch Flint back to the Detroit system. On Oct. 16, water started flowing again from Detroit to Flint…

(P)arents and other Flint residents filed a class-action federal lawsuit against Snyder, the state, the city and 13 other public officials in November for the damages they have suffered as a result of the lead-tainted water. The suit, which claims to represent “tens of thousands of residents,” alleges that the city and state officials “deliberately deprived” them of their 14th Amendment rights by replacing formerly safe drinking water with a cheaper alternative that was known to be highly toxic.

“For more than 18 months, state and local government officials ignored irrefutable evidence that the water pumped from the Flint River exposed [residents] to extreme toxicity,” the complaint reads. “The deliberately false denials about the safety of the Flint River water was as deadly as it was arrogant.”…

And, over that 18 months, people kept drinking the water… especially those citizens of Flint without the financial resources to purchase bottled water in sufficient quantities. And this might still be the case today, if not for the fact that an EPA researcher sent a draft report this past spring to Lee Anne Walters. Thankfully, because of what he’d seen in the test samples taken from her home, he decided to break protocol and let her know. And that’s when things started to unravel. The following comes from an absolutely brilliant piece that was just published a few hours ago by Michigan Radio on how all of this played out. [I’m sure people are already working on Erin Brockovich-like screenplays.]

…(Waters) immediately forwarded the email to a reporter she had met in the spring. Curt Guyette is an investigative reporter who works for the ACLU of Michigan.

“You know, talking about the ‘hazardous waste levels’ of lead was certainly attention grabbing,” says Guyette.

The draft EPA report showed lead levels at Lee Anne Walters’ house were way worse than she thought.

We’re talking simply jaw-dropping numbers.

Let me put it this way: If you have a glass of water, and it has a lead level of 5,000 parts per billion, the EPA considers it hazardous waste. One sample from the Walters’ house had more than 13,000 parts per billion. And that’s not even the scary part. The scary part is this report said there was reason to believe that the Walters’ home could be a canary in the coal mine.

“It’s not this individual home. It’s not coming from inside the home. It’s coming from outside the home. We know now, from emails and other records, that, for months, the EPA had been warning state officials that something was wrong with Flint’s water,” says Guyette…

But, even with this, officials still weren’t taking significant action. The following is from Michigan Radio’s Lindsey Smith.

…So back in July, I turned to Brad Wurfel, the spokesman for Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality. Wurfel agreed to talk to me about the EPA report. The first thing I asked him was: what responsibility does the state have in making sure lead isn’t getting into people’s drinking water?

“Let me start here. Anyone who is concerned about lead in the drinking water in Flint can relax.”
“Let me start here,” Wurfel said. “Anyone who is concerned about lead in the drinking water in Flint can relax. There is no broad problem right now that we’ve seen with lead in the drinking water in Flint.”

It turns out, there was a broad problem, and it turns out, the MDEQ is exactly the agency responsible…

The tests were bad enough that at that point, they should have informed the public about the broad lead risk, but that’s not what happened. Instead, state and city officials kept telling residents there was no lead problem in Flint’s water; that this EPA report was wrong; that the report was written by a “rogue employee.”…

And that’s when Virginia Tech professor Marc Edwards got involved. Edwards, an environmental engineer who researches the corrosion of older water systems, upon hearing about the situation in Flint, loaded up his van with lead test kits and four students, and drove the 15 hours to Flint. And what he found shocked him. The water being delivered to the homes of Flint’s citizens was essentially eating away at the the city’s lead pipes.

This past September Edwards demonstrated what was happening with two bottles of water, both containing nails. One, filled with untreated water from the Flint River, was dissolving the nail. The other, which had been treated with chemicals to stop corrosion, left the nail untouched… According to Edwards, this is something that people in the municipal water business know all too well, but, in spite of this, the water in Flint wasn’t treated to keep it from happening. “Flint is the only city in America that I’m aware who does not have a corrosion control plan in place to stop this kind of problem,” Edwards told the assembled members of the press.

So, to summarize, Flint was taken over by the state, and, in an effort to cut costs, the decision was made to give people water from the Flint River. And, going against all standards in the industry, this water was not treated to prevent corrosion, leading to, among other things, unprecedented levels of lead poisoning among Flint’s children. And, when citizens began to raise concerns, bringing bottles of their discolored drinking water to public meetings, they were told that nothing was wrong, in spite of the fact that officials knew otherwise… Or at least that’s how it appears.

According to our Governor, though, we still don’t know all of the facts.

This past Sunday morning, I saw Governor Snyder being interviewed on the local Detroit CBS affiliate. When the subject of Flint’s water came up, he said, “It’s premature to come to conclusions” on the matter. Saying that we should wait for the report from his task force, he added that it might not just be a water problem. “We should remember that a lot of lead issues can happen because of lead-based paint in someone’s home,” he said… So, in Snyder’s opinion, it’s not necessarily that he and his administration were pumping untreated water through the city’s infrastructure that caused the problem. No, it could be that, at the same time that he gave the go-ahead to start using untreated water from the Flint River, the children of Flint just coincidentally started eating lead paint chips at a higher rate.

[If you would like to hear Snyder responding to questions about lead levels in Flint, follow the last link, and jump to the 10-minute mark in the video.]

Later in the same show, responding to a question about elevated lead levels in Flint’s public schools, Snyder said that, while it’s true that people are finding some high concentrations, the problem isn’t systemic, but more the result of just a few underutilized water fountains. “It usually is a case of not even the plumbing, all of the plumbing in the school, but we have found specific problem areas, involving, say, a drinking fountain or a fawcett, that can be the problem itself,” he said. “And what you’ll find typically is that it’s where it hasn’t been used. If it’s been flushed and been used, usually you’ll find very low levels of lead, but if it has sat there for some time, and, again, this can go back for years… It’s actually so specific that you have to narrow it down to particular fixtures.” I would have loved it if the woman conducting the interview, who looked to me like a Kristen Wiig character, had offered Snyder a glass of water from a Flint public school water fountain, assuring him that it had been recently flushed, but she didn’t take the opportunity.

Detroit schools… Flint water… What will our “tough nerd” of a Governor fix for us next? Where will he next apply his brilliant MBA mind and the principles of free market capitalism? One can only imagine.

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33 Comments

  1. Demetrius
    Posted December 16, 2015 at 2:02 am | Permalink

    In another era, there would be criminal charges pending for the politicians who are responsible for this.

    Today, they likely will be re-elected and/or run for a higher office.

    I mean, as long as the kids who were poisoned from drinking TAP-WATER IN A MAJOR AMERICAN CITY – and will suffer their whole lives with the effects of this fiasco – come from “somebody else’s” neighborhood, who really cares, right?

  2. twilight
    Posted December 16, 2015 at 2:07 am | Permalink

    because you can’t figure out the italicization tag, i have a hard time taking you seriously.

  3. tommy
    Posted December 16, 2015 at 5:09 am | Permalink

    This has Michael Moore’s return it Flint for a second documentary written all over it. Time to hold the scoundrels accountable. Could you imagine if this same series of events happened in an affluent suburb instead of a poverty stricken forgotten wasteland that Flint has become due toa different – but equally devastating – form of greed?

    Makes me sick.

  4. Posted December 16, 2015 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    The italics issue has been resolved. You can now take this issue of lead poisoning seriously.

  5. Anonymous
    Posted December 16, 2015 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    When people ask why we don’t want an Emergency Manager in Ypsilanti, here’s your response.

  6. John Galt
    Posted December 16, 2015 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    Clean water is for winners.

  7. General Demitrious
    Posted December 16, 2015 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    It is important to note that the lead gets into the water due to its corrosiveness. What kind of hellish chemicals are in that water to make it so corrosive? Was this corrosiveness evident before the switch, and ignored or …

    Also, I would love to blame the Emergency Manager, but is it not true that he had the support of an elected city council to do the switch?

  8. dot
    Posted December 16, 2015 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    This comes after Flint was named the most dangerous city in America. My guess is that the people who remain are relatively low down on the Governor’s list of people he cares about.

  9. Meta
    Posted December 16, 2015 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    Most people seem to think that the lead was caused by corrosive water breaking down pipes. Have people tested the water in the Flint River though? According to the Environmental Defense Fund, “Automobile Industry Largest Source of Lead Pollution Today,” and GM has a plant on the Flint River.

    Lead is used in a number of car components, including lead wheel weights, solder in electronics, and lead car batteries. However, lead-free alternatives are available. Lead wheel weights can be replaced with tin or steel weights. Alternative battery technologies such as nickel-metal hydride batteries are on the road today in gas-electric hybrid cars and can be further developed for use in conventional vehicles.

    Read more:
    https://www.edf.org/news/automobile-industry-largest-source-lead-pollution-today

  10. Jcp2
    Posted December 16, 2015 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    Water leaving the Flint water treatment plant did not have elevated lead levels. It was leached from the service lines.

    http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2015/10/see_step_by_step_how_lead_is_g.html

    Water corrosiveness does not mean nefarious chemicals added because of industrial dumping. It could be a matter of acidity vs alkalinity, softness vs hardness, etc.

    http://www.water-research.net/index.php/drinking-water-issues-corrosive-water-lead-copper-aluminum-zinc-and-more

  11. Peter Larson
    Posted December 17, 2015 at 5:53 am | Permalink

    But the residents of Ypsilanti want less testing and scrutiny for their city.

  12. Eel
    Posted December 17, 2015 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    What in the fuck are you talking about, Peter?

  13. Peter Larson
    Posted December 17, 2015 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    There was a post about Water Street recently. Some people were upset at the scrutiny. A simplification, but that was the gist.

  14. Anonymous
    Posted December 17, 2015 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    I don’t recall people arguing against scrutiny, Peter. In the instance that you are referring to, people we merely questioning the motives of the MDEQ, who, contrary to protocol, had gone public with concerns about remediation on activities on Water Street, going so far as to suggest that they may not have even happened. Scrutiny of Ypsilanti is good. Scrutiny of MDEQ is good. Both can happen simultaneously.

  15. EOS
    Posted December 17, 2015 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    General D –
    “What kind of hellish chemicals are in that water to make it so corrosive?”

    The by-products of chlorination. Now that the pipes are corroded, anytime the water sits for any duration, it will carry additional lead to the homes and businesses of Flint.

  16. Anonymous
    Posted December 17, 2015 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    EOS is one post away from having a Dr Strangelove like meltdown about the fluoridation conspiracy. I can feel it.

  17. Frosted Flakes
    Posted December 17, 2015 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    i don’t think we need to imagine anybody saying strange things on this blog. At this point, I am sure there are many readers reading various comments and thinking to themselves : “I would love to help you, but, you see, the string in my leg has gone.”

  18. Anonymous
    Posted December 17, 2015 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    “The string in my leg is gone.”

    http://i.imgur.com/LaJ9Kmo.gif

  19. Anonymous
    Posted December 17, 2015 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    “Mandrake, have you ever seen a Commie drink a glass of water?”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qr2bSL5VQgM

  20. Peter Larson
    Posted December 18, 2015 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    “I don’t recall people arguing against scrutiny, Peter. In the instance that you are referring to, people we merely questioning the motives of the MDEQ, who, contrary to protocol, had gone public with concerns about remediation on activities on Water Street, going so far as to suggest that they may not have even happened.”

    Well, regardless of the motives of the MDEQ, if the City of Ypsilanti can’t sufficiently and quickly respond to the accusations that they had not, in fact, done the proper remediation, then I call that a problem. The risks are too great to simply write the MDEQ’s allegations off as politics. It seems that many people just don’t sense the gravity of environmental contamination, and simply wish to be released from scrutiny, whether justified or not.

    This isn’t the same as search as frisk policies on individuals, for example.

  21. Peter Larson
    Posted December 18, 2015 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    I am unclear as to whether the City of Ypsilanti or another group within Ypsilanti was targeted. I don’t think it changes the argument.

    In general, one might say that people only take environmental contamination and regulation seriously when something actually happens.

  22. jcp2
    Posted December 18, 2015 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    In general, one might say that most people only take the potential of serious consequences happening seriously when something serious actually happens. Those that take the potential of serious consequences happening seriously when something serious has not happened yet usually are paid to be that serious. Seriously.

  23. C Adam Plomaritas
    Posted December 18, 2015 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

    I know everyone wants to act as if Snyder personally poured lead sediment into babies’ bottles, but does anyone know/care who was responsible for the city of Detroit jacking flint’s rates upon finding out about the plan to migrate to a different water system, causing flint to do so years prematurely?

  24. Demetrius
    Posted December 19, 2015 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    @C

    There likely plenty of blame to go around … but ultimately, Snyder decided to usurp Flint’s democratically-elected government in favor of an un-elected (appointed) bureaucrat who had final say over these decisions. At that point, Snyder effectively “owned” the responsibility … and the blame … for what came after.

    If being ultimately responsible for poisoning the tap-water in a major American city and causing severe, lifelong consequences for a whole generation of children isn’t a crime worthy of prosecution, what is?

  25. Maria Huffman
    Posted December 19, 2015 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    wjhen I was in college I worked a few summers at the paint plant in Flint. It was right on the Flint
    River right near downtown. A older worker said for years they poured chemicals down the drain until the EPA demanded that the hazardous waste be put in barrels and trucked off site. Part of my summer job was to stencil these barrels for identification. another part of my summer job was to flush out large portable paint vats with acetone, that I released from a pressurized hose. The acetone was used to clear the inside and outside of the paint vats of paint, after almost all the paint had been used..we rinsed the vats with acetone to clean them of paint, sort of like rinsing a cup with water to rinse old dried milk out if it… The slurry of old paint and acetone drained down a drain in the floor, just like those drains in handicap showers these days.
    Was that slurry what was in those barrels?I have no idea.

  26. Maria Huffman
    Posted December 19, 2015 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    So the paint plant was a plant of the E.I. DuPont de Nemours company..they would have knowledge of what drained where and what was in those barrels.

  27. Maria Huffman
    Posted December 19, 2015 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    And these vats..what is a vat, anyway? They look like large refrigerators on four little stubby legs..we had to climb up a step ladder with protective gear and then turn the acetone on and spray….Paint would be poured in there after production and shipped to other places to get sprayed on cars..then the vats got returned back…generally they were equivalent to four big refrigerators in volume, is my recollection.

  28. Jay Steichmann
    Posted December 19, 2015 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

    It could be that Snyder has been eating paint chips.

  29. EOS
    Posted December 20, 2015 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    Maria,
    The paint and acetone may have been rinsed to a floor drain, but it did not go into a sanitary sewer. There was a containment tank beneath the drain where the chemicals were captured so that they could be transferred to waste containers and shipped to a chemical waste processing facility. Hope this knowledge alleviates your guilty feelings after all these years. Even a college student should know better.

  30. Maria Huffman
    Posted December 20, 2015 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    I do not know where it went EOS. I do not feel guilty.
    DuPont was a very well organized company. The number one concern at any
    Dupont plant was safety.
    Acetone is highly flammable…what ever they did..it never blew the plant up…

  31. Maria Huffman
    Posted December 20, 2015 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    If people are curious about where the slurry went, it would be best to contact DuPont.

  32. Maria Huffman
    Posted December 20, 2015 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    Or have you already heard from them, EOS?

  33. Maria Huffman
    Posted December 20, 2015 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    The EPA would also have knowledge of what requirements were placed on that Flint plant for waste disposal, and what year the hazardous waste protocols were implemented.
    That factory is gone now as is the neighboring Buick factory.

5 Trackbacks

  1. […] I wasn’t the only one who got pissed off a few days ago, when hearing Michigan Governor Rick Snyder suggest that the kids in Flint who are […]

  2. […] thankful for the health of his family this holiday season… One wonders if the parents of kids suffering from lead poisoning in Flint share his […]

  3. By The case for a coverup in Flint on January 17, 2016 at 2:21 pm

    […] and keep drinking the water in July, and when Snyder this past December said that it was “premature to come to conclusions” on the safety of Flint’s drinking water, as “a lot of lead issues can happen because of […]

  4. By Snyder Watch 2016: Dinner at Old Town on January 29, 2016 at 8:02 am

    […] treated him with respect. That, however, is apparently beginning to change thanks to his role in the Flint disaster and subsequent […]

  5. […] and keep drinking the water in July, and when Snyder this past December said that it was “premature to come to conclusions” on the safety of Flint’s drinking water, as “a lot of lead issues can happen because of […]

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