I’m very defensive of Flint, Mich., as it’s my husband’s hometown, and, like my beloved Detroit, I feel it gets a bad rep. It is the home of Perani’s Hockey World, birthplace of General Motors, and the reason I have seen Semi-Pro dozens of times. (Also, because Love Me Sexy.)
But Flint is not without its problems. When the auto industry left the city, a gaping hole emerged in its economy. Perhaps you have seen Roger & Me, Michael Moore’s attempt to hold General Motors CEO Roger Smith accountable for the decimation of Flint’s workforce.
Despite trying to replace the car factories with other small manufacturers, Flint slipped deeper into debt and required an Emergency Manager to be appointed. One of the mounting expenses for the city and its residents was the water bill. For some residents it rose to over $100 a month.
“We have residents choosing between water and groceries and other bills,” said Bethany Hazard, whose own bill is about $100 a month for a single person.
The solution was to switch from their expensive Detroit water provider to a nearby company, the Karegnondi Water Authority, which pulls water from Lake Huron. Except that facility won’t come online until 2016, so to hold them over, they’re piping water from the Flint River. Therein lies the problem.
The Flint River is notorious for containing decades-worth of factory runoff. Flint River water is 19 times more corrosive than Lake Huron’s. And corrosive river water improperly filtered, as Flint’s is, will strip everything it touches of iron and other debris as it moves through the pipes. It’s so dangerous, GM’s Flint Engine Operations won’t even use it in the plant. They’re bypassing the city supply for a nearby township’s water.
BOLD CLAIM: When GM won’t use water to make a car, humans probably shouldn’t drink it.
In the fall of 2014, six months after the switch, Flint underwent three boil advisories for coliform bacteria in the water. To get rid of the bacteria, disinfectants were used, but by January the water system was full of Total Trihalomethane, a byproduct of the disinfectants. TTHM can cause plenty of health complications over time, not least of which is cancer. It’s not recommended to expose yourself to it longterm, and young children and the elderly had to resort to bottled water.
Residents began to protest their persistent, bleach-smelling, dirty brown water. Kids and pets were breaking out in rashes. It seemed unhealthy despite what the Health Department was claiming were acceptable levels of TTHM. Everyone was assured the rust color was from a totally normal amount of iron in their pipes.