The unsettling water crisis in Flint, Mich. has been developing for months now, and it will still be some time before the problem is solved. Celebrities like Cher, The Game, and Pearl Jam have pitched in and donated water or money to the town and its victims, and the issue has even brought the sports world together in aid.
But how did we get to this point, where citizens are afraid to use their own city’s water supply? Back in April 2014, a Flint city manager appointed by Republican Governor Rick Snyder made the decision to switch the city’s water supply from the Detroit water system to the Flint River in order to save money.
The people of Flint noticed an immediate problem with their tap water after the switch, though. It was brown, and bathing in it caused people to break out in skin rashes. The Flint River was known for “containing decades-worth of factory runoff,” which really doesn’t sound like something you’d want to drink or come within spitting distance of. Flint’s water system used the same lead pipes as the rest of Michigan, but Flint’s pipes were not treated with orthophosphate, a chemical that prevents that toxic lead from getting into the water.
While state health officials insisted the problems were only cosmetic, further testing revealed dangerously elevated levels of lead. A public health crisis broke out, leading to a federal state of emergency being declared in the city after an alarming level of lead was found in a child’s blood supply. Lead poisoning is especially dangerous for young children and can cause them irreversible brain damage.
The problem was only made worse because of how governmental bodies handled the public pleas for help. For a year the complaints were ignored — with former mayor Dayne Walling even declaring he drinks the water every day to attest for its safety — and the EPA didn’t take aggressive action to force the state to take proper steps to clean the water. CNN’s Jake Tapper also apologized to Flint for the lack of sufficient media coverage over the issue.
In October 2015, Flint switched back to the Detroit water supply, but by then, their water was deemed to be too contaminated to use. For now, Flint citizens need to rely on aid for water, be it from celebrities, the National Guard, or you.