Flint Michigan Water Crisis: Its Timeline and Latest Update
Humans can live 3 weeks without food, but only 3 days without water, thus water is indeed important. But, what if your water was poison? This is exactly what happened in Flint, Michigan about three years ago. The city has a population of around 99,700 and located 70 miles north of Detroit.
According to 2016 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, among U.S. cities with at least 65,000 residents, Flint has the nation's highest poverty rate. An estimated 58% of the residents under age 18 live below the poverty line compared to a national average of 18% which ranks first in the childhood poverty base from Michigan's 2016 median household income data.
The trouble began about 3 years ago when the city decided to switch from Detroit’s water system to the Flint River but the new system wouldn’t be ready for two years, for the meantime to save and cut costs they switched to the Flint River water, and that decision turned out to be a mistake.
Foul smells, bad tastes and discoloured water, that’s what came out of the tap in Flint, Michigan when residents’ drinking water was pulled from the river. The residents noticed that the tap water looked and smelled strange has later found with dangerous level of lead; the state knew about it and did nothing.
A high number of children with abnormal levels of lead in their blood and it doubled after 18 months. Even though the water failed tests several times after the switch, the residents were not alerted and informed for about nine months about the problem and families have been suffering for months without clean water, having to find alternative sources.
What happened that caused the Flint Michigan water crisis? Follow the timeline of where it all started and know where the situation is at present.
April 16, 2013
Yearning to save money, Flint’s city councils voted 7-1 to join the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA) where a new pipeline project that will deliver water from Lake Huron and end its contract with Detroit. State Treasurer, Andy Dillon, with the city council’s recommendation, authorizes Flint to make the water switch, where water begins drawing from the Flint River.
Emergency manager Ed Kurtz officially signed the agreement, which was projected to save the city $19 million over eight years and this has been agreed by the state. Effective April 2014 the DWSD will terminate its water service contract with Flint.
The water switch from Detroit’s system to Flint River is considered temporary while the city waits to connect to a new regional water system and the move was made as a cost-saving measure for the struggling, majority-black city. The changeover is delayed by days because workers complete the construction of a disinfectant system at a treatment plant.
Soon after the switch, residents begin to complain about the smell, taste and appearance of the water, and raise health concerns like skin rashes, hair loss and concerns about bacteria and other problems.
It is the first time that the city prompts an advisory to the residents in the west side of Flint to boil water as it announces fecal coliform bacterium has been detected in the water supply. The high amount of chlorine boosts in the water and flushes the system.
The city issues another boil water advisory for having a positive test result of total coliform bacteria. The contamination of this kind of bacteria in the water is a warning sign of E. coli bacteria or other disease-causing organisms. The city officials have announced that they will flush the pipes and add more chlorine to the water and after four days, the residents are told that drinking water from the tap is safe.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) issues a statement outlining the possible causes of water contamination through the governor’s briefing paper. According to Stephen Busch, the district supervisor of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the city has taken operational steps to limit the potential re-occurrence of boil-water advisories, flushing the system and increasing chlorine in the water in the future. The department blames the ageing pipes, cold weather and population decline.
The elderly and parents of young children are cautioned to consult with their doctors after the state finds that the level of disinfecting chemicals in the water exceeds the threshold set by the Safe Drinking Water Act. Because of this, the city warns immediately the residents that the water contains byproducts of disinfectants that may cause health issues including an increased risk for cancer over time.
The Detroit’s water system offers a $4 million connection fee to restore service but Jerry Ambrose, Flint’s state-appointed emergency manager and other city officials declines the offer, citing concerns water rates could go up more than $12 million each year, even with the reconnection fee waiver and insist that the water is safe.
The residents started to form a community forum with tote jugs of discoloured water and the Detroit Free Press reports children are starting to develop rashes and suffering from mysterious illnesses.
Lee-Anne Walters, a Flint resident, mother of four, contacted EPA with concerns about dark sediment in her tap water and thought of possibility could make her children sick. The test results revealed that her water had 104 parts per billion (ppb) of lead, about seven times greater than the EPA limit of 15 ppb in the water. Because of this, the MDEQ was notified by the EFA of its results that dangerous levels of lead were detected in the water homes in Flint, that even small amounts of lead can cause lasting health and developmental problems in children.
The MDEQ notes a “hiccups” change, including a buildup of TTHM, a cancer-causing byproduct of chlorine and organic matter, that elevated TTHM levels are not an immediate health emergency because the risk of disease increases only after years of consumption.
According to Miguel Del Toral, an EPA expert, the state was testing the water in a way that could profoundly understate the lead levels. The officials play down problems and say that the water is not an imminent threat to public health; for them, it’s clear that the nature of the threat was addressed poorly, also residents in Flint are concerned more about other aspects of their water like the taste, smell and colour are the top complaints.
Another water testing in Mrs. Walters home, which detects 397 ppb of lead in tap water. Because of this, Flint City Council members voted 7-1 to stop using the Flint River as the water source and reconnect with Detroit. But Jerry Ambrose overrules the vote and name it as incomprehensible because the costs would skyrocket and water from Detroit is not safe compared to Flint.
With this, city officials promise to spend $2.24 million on immediate improvements to its water supply. Later in the month, city officials say water quality has improved and meets all state and federal standards for safety.
Various of concerns thrown to the MDEQ that link with Mrs. Walter’s video on lead and Flint’s administrator said that it would be premature to draw any conclusions regarding lead base from the leaked internal EPA memo. The press have disseminated to keep the public calm, that the problem on lead in water is not widespread.
In fact, Dayne Walling, the Mayor of the city Flint drinks a cup of tap water on a local television report to ensure residents that it is safe for drinking. Governor Snyder's chief of staff, Dennis Muchmore, however, emails the Department of Community Health and responds that he is disappointed by the water issue in Flint. He does not think that people are getting the benefit of the doubt.
The MDEQ orders Flint to improve the corrosion control treatment in the water supply due to the elevated lead levels as being reported from the first six months of 2015 reveals.
Marc Edwards, a professor together with his team from Virginia Tech, notifies the MDEQ will be conducting a water quality study and after they issue a preliminary report indicating 40% of Flint homes have indeed elevated lead levels in water. The team recommends the state shall declare the water is not safe for drinking or cooking and the river water is corroding old pipes and lead is leaching into the water, as findings of their study.
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician who led the research team from Hurley Medical Center has released a study revealing the number of children with elevated levels in their blood, and still, the state insists that water is safe.
After the government epidemiologists validate the findings of Dr. Hanna-Attisha, the Flint officials urge the residents to stop drinking water. Governor Snyder orders the distribution of water filters, the testing of water in schools and the expansion of water and blood testing, thus demands to discontinue using the Flint River.
The city returned from the Flint River to its former source of treated water, the Detroit municipal system and the Governor signs a spending bill appropriating $9.35 million to provide health services for residents and help Flint reconnect with Detroit for water supply.
Governor Snyder has asked the help of the federal government in distributing water filters and bottled water after declaring the state of emergency in Flint. He announces an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease occurred in the Flint area between June 2014 and November 2015, with 87 cases and 10 deaths and Michigan health officials report an increase in Legionnaires' disease cases, that some fatal patients over the past two years in the county and that includes Flint.
Due to the outbreak, the Michigan National Guard is mobilized to help distribute clean water and seeks the President’s help but declines to declare a disaster in Flint. He authorizes $5 million in aid instead of declaring a state of emergency in the city; the state of emergency allows the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to step in.
In order to ensure state regulators are complying with the Safe Drinking Water Act, the agency issues an emergency administrative and are being clear in their response to the water crisis. One of the employees, Liane Shekter-Smith, is the former chief of the Michigan Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance, and other five current and former state workers are charged as the criminal investigation continues. She is facing charges due to willful negligence of duty for allegedly misleading the public and concealing evidence of rising lead levels in water.
The government has ordered the state of Michigan, in the city of Flint to deliver bottled water especially homes they were not able to check with regards to ensuring that filters are working properly or not. The leader of a nonprofit group helping residents that as many as 52% of the water filters installed in a sample of more than 400 homes had problems that are according to the court documents.
Two of Flint's former emergency managers and two water plant officials, who reported directly to the governor are charged with crimes of false conspiracy and pretense. They are blamed for ambiguity on the Michigan Department of Treasury (MDT) into getting millions in bonds and then misused the money to finance the construction of a new pipeline.
There around $722 million complaints are filed in contrast to the EPA on behalf of over 1,700 residents impacted by the water crisis. The MDEQ announces Flint’s water system no longer has levels of lead exceeding the federal limit according to the recent six-month study and with this, the State considers ending bottled water distribution in the City of Flint.
A $97 million budget is approved by the federal judge funding for Michigan to examine and replace lead water service lines for 18,000 Flint homes to be completed in a three-year time frame. Also, the EPA declares that it has awarded $100 million to Flint for drinking water infrastructure advancements.
Flint’s mayor, Karen Weaver, make a recommendation on where the city should get its drinking water long term of the crisis that left the supply contaminated with lead and Governor Snyder agreed with her decision.
The Flint's water system is improving, but the issues on lead remain and there is an increased potential for particulate lead to break free and enter the water supply. The city, state and federal officials continue to advise residents to use water filters in their homes and it is expected to continue in 2018 and 2019.
A team of researchers collected samples from 138 Flint homes, with the fifth and likely final round last month. The testing showed that lead levels continued to stay well below the federal safety standard of 15 ppb.
High lead levels, which can cause developmental delays, miscarriage, and other problems, were found mostly in children. The outbreak has led to 15 current or former government officials being charged with crimes and lawsuits filed by several residents.
The state prosecutors announce that Michigan's top medical official, Dr. Eden Wells will be charged with involuntary manslaughter for her role in the water crisis, which was linked to an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that caused at least 12 deaths.
The drinking water in Flint Michigan is now in compliance with federal regulations on lead and copper content. But the officials cautioned that it could be a year or more before it is safe for residents to drink from their faucets because lead-tainted pipes need to be replaced.
What is happening in Flint, Michigan is truly dreadful. The water contamination crisis will impact the community for decades and underscores how ensuring safe drinking water is serious, high-stakes work, most especially with the families and children impacted by this disaster.
As the crisis has unfolded, plenty of finger-pointing happened over who is to blame and what went wrong. Critics of private water solutions have clumsily jumped on Flint as an opportunity to advance their agenda with no regard to actual facts. What happened in Flint is not far from what is happening in other parts of the world in the discussion of water safety. Flint is one closer step to the path toward future.
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