The Flint Water Crisis: The Story Behind the Story [Part One of Three]

in #informationwar4 years ago

Flint Residents protest "citywide poisoning" - Image Source

Here's The Story You've Probably Heard

Flint is a poor city in the middle of Michigan somewhere. It's down on it's luck. It's had to declare bankruptcy and there's no money for water, so the State government ordered them to stick a straw in the Flint River and pipe it right on out to their residents full of all kinds of pollution.

Next thing you know, all the children were being lead poisoned, peoples' hair was falling out from copper poisoning, their every complaint was ignored by the State government and eventually they were only rescued by a brave pediatrician who blew the evil State coverup wide open while warning all the residents to stop drinking that red water coming out of their taps.

Now Flint is still being poisoned from their water system. It's never been fixed because there just isn't enough money from the State. Those racists in charge won't admit there's a problem and get around the FIXING FLINT NOW! In a few years an entire generation of children will be brain damaged, but no one's really stopping it. And it's all the (Republican) Government's fault!

The Questions To Ask

How many children in Flint actually had problems with lead during the water issue?

WHY did lead get in the water? Was it really the state's fault?

Did the problem have anything to do with racism whatsoever?

What's happened to Flint's water system since the big story broke?

Are children still being poisoned by Flint's water?

Some Facts To Consider

By the time you heard about it, Flint children's lead levels had barely changed. By the time the story went national and Flint began drowning in bottled water donations, it was a panic burying the real story.

Out of 100,000 people in Flint, how many showed Elevated Blood Lead Levels which could've been due to the water?


137 total, but only 43 suspected to be from water. Two years earlier there had been 135 from the same area.

1 individual was "lead poisoned".

Not hundreds. Not dozens. Not even ten.


Bad, yes, especially for that poor kid and the family.

But an automatic indication of a huge coverup? A cause for panic? A health emergency requiring hundreds of millions of dollars in reparations to fix? Requiring the resignation of the governor? Requiring the continual castigation of our state government by the rest of the United States for racism and corruption?

What on Earth happened?

Petty Local Politics

Flint is kind of famous around here for ineptitude. In 2012, they were in such a mess they had to declare bankruptcy and State law dictates bankrupt cities must have an emergency manager appointed by the governor to get them solvent again.

Ed Kurtz - Image Source

The emergency manager, a guy named Ed Kurtz, reviewed Flint's finances and realized they could save a whole lot of money by leaving the Detroit water system and joining the Karegnondi Water Authority, a new system being built to pull water from Lake Huron at much better prices. It wouldn't be finished for three years but it was still a good deal and everyone agreed on the planned switch, from City Council to the governor's office.

Protests calling for governor's resignation - Image Source

The only group involved who had a problem with it, naturally, was Detroit. Their water system is one of their very few cash cows. When they were informed about the impending switch, they informed Flint they'd be dropping their contract in a year. Flint could stay with Detroit water, but the prices would now be going up.

Detroit City Council 2014 Source

Now What?

After a flurry of negotiation, Ed Kurtz felt Detroit was asking way too much to keep Flint in the Detroit system. He was on his way out the door as EM when he decided to implement a new solution: pull water from the Flint River, already in use as a backup supply. As he said later, his job was not clean drinking water. He had to rely on people with better expertise and he properly requested their advice on making the Flint River supply work.

Flint River - Image Source

Trouble was, the river was very acidic and had pollution problems. Before signing off on the plan, EPA officials warned that drawing the river water into the city's pipes without a correct dosage of softening agent would kill tapwater quality and damage infrastructure.

For whatever reason, Ed Kurt's successor Darnell Early decided to ignore the EPA.

Darnell Early - Image Source

Detroit was pulling a "you'll be sorry!" on Flint. Darnell Early was deciding it was too expensive to treat the water properly. Amid all the accusations of white racism being thrown, these are the actual sources of this decision

Beware The Solder!

The thing is, the river water going into the system was clean. It didn't have any lead in it. It didn't even have contaminants in it.

But the pipes did.

Lead-soldered pipes - Image Source

Flint's basic plumbing was installed before 1978, when it was perfectly okay to use lead solder in residential plumbing.

Well, it wasn't okay but that wasn't known yet.

Water sitting in pipes connected with lead solder can leach lead into the water. The more the water sits, the more it leaches. The more acidic the water, the faster it draws the lead.

Michigan regulations had already gotten quite a few of those old pipes in Flint replaced before 2014. But not all.

Soften That Water!

When Mr. Early ignored the EPA, the acidic water began scouring Flint's old pipes. If it sat at all, it started leaching lead and copper. And causing pipes to break when the solder got thin, which let other junk into the system.

Corroded pipes from Flint - Image Source

Residents noticed right away there was a problem - it's kinda hard to ignore your water turning red. Complaints began coming in, but not really to the state. Still, after three months enough concern got through to make the Department of Environmental quality start testing for for lead and copper in the water. Official Timeline

Everyone was following federally-approved methods of testing, but there was a problem: spot checking tapwater doesn't really give the whole picture.

The Problem With Spot Checks

Some houses had pretty much no lead in the taps because either the pipes to the house had already been replaced or the residents ran their water a lot. Other people didn't run their water as much and it would get high metal content in it. That's why the problem could be not even noticeable in one house and a big deal next door.

Water tests after the Flint story broke - Image Source

Residents having their homes randomly tested were also contacted ahead of time and told to run their taps the night before testing, clearing the lines of potential contaminants. There were a few high readings that concerned the DEQ, but not enough to show an emergency. The EPA was concerned and suggested a closer look.

The Child Lead Poisoning office at the state were also concerned and watching EBLs from Flint. They detected a small bump in summer of 2014, but it was so slight they didn't think it was connected to the water. The pattern of the overall area hadn't really changed. Source: internal emails from July 2015, pg 8

Still, even though they were a little worried, things seemed pretty stable in Flint.

Or so they thought...

Stay Tuned for Part Two Coming in the Next Few Days

Lauren Turner, Wife, Mother, Chief Cook and Bottle Washer, Blogger and Caretaker of Civilization

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Fascinating story...on to part 2

Howdy lturner! I had almost forgotten about the Flint water fiasco, are you guys close to Flint? This is a great report!

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