Water Issues in the City of Flint
The city of Flint is located in the State of Michigan and inhabited by more than 100 000 people. The city is a well-known place of birth of the General Motors Corporations and a symbol of the decay of the U.S. automobile industry. The problem of water contamination in this city became evident a long time ago, in April 2014. Due to the cost-saving measures of the authorities, the city started receiving its water supply from the Flint River instead of Detroit (Eligon). This measure was initially considered temporary. The given essay will discuss the problem of water contaminated with lead in the city of Flint, Michigan, and the delayed response of federal, state and local authorities to the problem due to environmental racism and inequality.
Drinking water in the city was infected in April, 2014, after the authorities changed the system of water supply. Due to the reconstruction of pipes leading to the Huron Lake, water began to arrive from the Flint River. Thus, it was not processed with the special additives that prevent corrosion of metal pipes. It led to the leaching and hit of lead in drinking water, which are both potentially hazardous for the human health (Eligon).
After the increased level of the lead content was found in the children, in October 2015 the authorities returned to the old system of water supply. The authorities of the state allocated $10.6 million to the reconnection of the city to the water supply of Detroit, the installation of filters, examinations and other measures. The local authorities were forced to use own resources during the emergency state. However, the governor could ask for the federal help if Michigan confessed to be incapable of coping with the requirements. However, complaints about the quality of water did not stop. The number of children poisoned by the contaminated water has reached 8 600 (Durando). However, this number can turn out even higher after a more detailed investigation.
According to the data of the WHO, lead is a toxic agent, the accumulation of which influences the productivity and performance of a human organism. It is especially harmful to the children of young age. Lead has a serious impact on the health of youth. When accumulated in large amounts, lead affects the functioning of brain and central nervous system, causing coma, spasms, and even death. The child who survives a serious poisoning caused by lead can suffer from a delay in mental development and behavioural frustration. At lower levels of impact, which do not cause any obvious symptoms, lead causes a number of harmful effects in the functioning of internal organs. In particular, lead influences the development of the child’s brain and results in the decrease in the coefficient of intellectual development (IQ) and behavioural changes, such as the reduction in concentration and attention, strengthening of antisocial behaviour, and the deterioration of knowledge assimilation. Besides, lead causes anaemia, hypertension, renal failure, as well as immune and reproductive failures. The neurologic and behavioural consequences of the impact of lead are irreversible (WHO).
In an adult organism, lead gets to the brain, livers, kidneys, and bones. Over time, lead is accumulated on teeth and bones. The impact of lead on a human organism is defined depending on the content of this element in blood. After a long contact, lead activates the synthesis of the endogenous oxalic acid, which leads to the changes in kidney tubules. Chronic nephropathy develops under the condition of further intake of lead. As a result, it may cause renal failure or an increase of the content of uric acid in urine.
According to Gupta, Tinker, and Hume, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha was the first person who emphasized the problem of water contamination in the city of Flint and immediately started the investigation of the level of lead in local children’s blood. The doctor came across a number of complaints from the citizens of Flint concerning the colour, smell and taste of water since April 2014. At that time the Flint’s water supply was switched from the Lake Huron to the Flint River. The complaints contained not only the smell and taste of water, but also the rashes on bodies and eye irritations. The E.coli bacteria were found in the water as well (Gupta, Tinker, and Hume).
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Having compared the samples taken before the cost-cutting decision and after its implementation, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha came to the conclusion that the level of lead in children’s blood might threaten their lives. In the interview with CNN, the doctor said:
In some neighbourhoods, it actually tripled. In one specific neighbourhood, the percentage of kids with lead poisoning went from about 5%, to almost 16% of the kids that were tested. It directly correlated with where the water lead levels were the highest. (Gupta, Tinker, and Hume)
The findings of the doctor did not correspond to the federal annual statements reporting the decrease in the lead levels all over the country. The state authorities were blamed for the inability to guarantee access for the residents of Flint to the clean drinking water despite the fact that the city was located a short drive from the Great Lakes. The city of Flint had faced a lot of issues even before the water crisis. There was a rough decrease of population and an increase of the criminality level in the city. Around half of the city’s population lives in poverty. Moreover, blacks compose about 83 % of the Flint’s population (Southall). The delay in the response to the water crisis in Flint is explained by the social, economic and racial peculiarities of the city.
The lower strata of the Flint’s society had more chances to be affected by the harmful substances, as they had no financial possibilities to move away from the polluted zones, buy environmentally friendly products, or rest regularly. Moreover, due to the insufficient education, they knew very little about ecological dangers and methods of their minimization. All these factors allowed the federal and local authorities to environmentally discriminate the people living in Flint (Eligon).
Downey and Hawkins believe that environmental justice means that the wealth, opportunities and responsibilities should be fairly distributed among the countries and various groups within each country. Special attention should be paid to the requirements and rights of the poor and unprotected people. The struggle with poverty and racism is the key purpose of sustainable development and environmental justice (Downey and Hawkins 778).
It took the governmental bodies almost two years to hear thousands of the complaints from the side the residents of Flint in order to determine who should take responsibility for the man-made catastrophe and to establish environmental justice. The governor of the North Central American State of Michigan Rick Snyder was severely criticized by the American politicians and celebrities. The politician was accused of inaction and ignorance of the water supply problem in the city of Flint (Southall). Here is the quote from the New York Times:
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The 274 pages of emails released by Gov. Rick Snyder this week on Flint’s water crisis included no discussion of race. Instead, they focused on costs relating to the city’s water supply, questions about scientific data showing lead contamination and uncertainty about the responsibilities of state and local health officials. (Eligon)
The emergency state in Flint was announced by Barack Obama, and the financial aid in the amount of $5 million was allocated by the state authorities for the treatment of the healthcare crisis (Eligon). The president called the poisoning of the Flint’s population a clean water famine with inadmissible lead levels (Eligon). At the same time, Barack Obama declined the offer to call this water crisis a natural disaster, as, in accordance with the U.S. legislation, it would require essentially more financing. Instead, the U.S. National Guard was sent to help to the Flint’s citizens. Tens of guardians distributed the sets for water testing from the supply system and filters for cleaning. They declared that the help would come to every family and every house. All people who consumed the contaminated water were tested for the lead content in blood. The necessary funds were directed to the treatment of children with high lead levels and the research of the potential threats to the health of people in Flint (Ford, McLaughlin & Smith).
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All in all, racial, social and economic status of people has a great impact on the environmental issues. Discrimination and inequality based on social stratification result in environmental injustice that has occurred in the city of Flint, Michigan. The environmental justice is realized on the synergy of three different spheres: political, economic and cultural. Simultaneous change in all of these spheres is necessary. The water supply crisis and the delayed response of the federal and local authorities to the health problems of the Flint’s residents demonstrated environmental injustice and inequality towards poor African American inhabitants of Flint.