The crisis that began in Flint, Michigan in 2014 brought many problems to the area and affected its current population and environment. The timeline of the crisis shows that the problem is not entirely resolved to this day, although the authorities state that the central issue is solved (“Flint Water Crisis”). In April of 2014, the state government changed the source of water for the city from Lake Huron to the Flint River to reduce the costs of water supply.
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Following that decision, the authorities announced that the water contained a fecal coliform bacterium, which required the water to be cleaned to avoid further contamination. After the first report, a second water boil advisory was issued to increase the level of chlorine in the water again as the suspected bacteria were still present in the tap water. However, the water was presumed to be clean and safe for drinking.
High levels of chlorine in the water, which were raised to eliminate the possibility of contamination, affected the state of the pipes that supplied water to the people and organizations. Some companies stopped using this water as they were afraid of damaging their equipment. At the beginning of 2015, the city issued a warning stating that the water might put one’s health in danger due to being filled with byproducts of disinfectants.
One of the main concerns was the possible risk of cancer. It became known that the quality of the water did not comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act (“Flint Water Crisis”). The amount of chemicals found in the water was deemed to be threatening to one’s health. However, the city declared that the water was safe for the majority of the population, arguing that only children and the elderly should consider contacting medical professionals.
The problem gained public attention as Flint’s citizens began talking about the crisis. The citizens brought discolored water to the community forum, directly confronting the government of the city about their concerns. It is necessary to mention that during this time the government officials were advised to return to using water from Lake Huron. However, they declined, arguing that this change might negatively affect the water costs.
The concerns of the citizens prompted further investigation into the state of the supplied water. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for instance, informed the city that the levels of lead found in the water were extremely high (“Flint Water Crisis”). Although the members of the council attempted to revert to the old system and stop supplying water from the river, their decision was overruled because of some possible cost-related issues.
During the summer of 2015, the problem of contamination persisted as the city’s officials declined all accusations about the levels of lead in the water. The EPA continued to evaluate the state of the water and reported an increased level of lead which significantly surpassed the accepted standards. Other organizations joined the debate to ask the Department of Environmental Quality to complete an investigation and assess the levels of lead in the water (“Flint Water Crisis”).
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While the results of the test showed that the water was contaminated, the skepticism surrounding the issue did not allow the problem to be resolved quickly. As a result, the city switched back to using the water from Detroit only in October of 2015. The town, still affected by the quality of the pipes and water, declared a state of emergency. The actions of the government in 2016 and 2017 were and are aimed at dealing with the outcomes of the city’s decisions.
As a result, the water crisis in Flint was followed by a number of outcomes. First of all, the health of the citizens was affected as the consequence of being exposed to the contaminated drinking water. According to Campbell et al., the elevated level of lead in people’s blood is the primary issue of this crisis (951). The authors note that lead exposure can affect many aspects of one’s health, including skin problems and developmental challenges in children.
In fact, lead poisoning has a plethora of long-term effects on the brain activity of a child, as he or she may experience difficulties with behavior, concentration, creativity, and learning. Moreover, the costs that derived from various health-related problems also affected the city and its population. Furthermore, the switch to the previous source of water exposed the pipes to a higher concentration of corrosive products, which damaged the system and resulted in substantial financial losses as well. The city lost millions of dollars because of lawsuits and settlements.
The causes of the described accident can be divided into the initial reasons and following decisions of the people in charge of the city’s government. The choice to switch to a different source of water can be considered the first reason behind the crisis. According to Morckel, the decision to change the reservoirs was supposed to result in the city saving a significant amount of money (23). However, the properties of the water from the river were not evaluated before the switch.
As the author notes, there is a substantial difference between the water from the lake and the river. Moreover, the water from the river was not cleaned properly, which damaged the pipes and led to the corrosion and lead exposure. This problem could also be explained by the fact that the pipelines in the city were rather old, which further exacerbated the process of corrosion (Olson et al. 357). Thus, it is safe to assume that the decisions of the city’s officials were not appropriate.
The progression of the water crisis was followed by more judgments from the city’s government. The people in charge of the water supply failed to assess its quality and continued to ignore the concerns of the citizens. As Gostin points out, the appointed emergency financial manager declined to consider the claims of the public and concentrated his efforts on the price reduction, which led to the crisis damaging many lives (2053).
The problem of lead contamination could be attributed to his negligence of various studies that highlighted the dangers of lead poisoning and urged to take different measures to mitigate the outcomes. In fact, the switch to Lake Huron water could not stop the crisis as the water was not the only source of the problem. The combination of using the old equipment, failing to perform a scientific evaluation, and focusing on the financial aspects of the changes resulted in the crisis being long, severe, and hard to manage.
Changes and Improvements
The outcomes of the Flint water crisis revealed the flaws in the current operations of the government and showed that some changes should be implemented. According to Goetsch, modern industry is full of materials that require attention from health and safety specialists (15). Lead is one of them as its use may result in various adverse effects on one’s health. Therefore, the evaluation of all structures that consist of such materials should be performed on a regular basis.
Multiple reports from different organizations should be open to the public to show the quality of the used systems. The information about the crisis indicates that the city’s officials dismissed the results of the research that was presented to them. This failure to recognize a problem is what stopped the authorities from acting on time. To avoid the problem that Flint encountered, other cities and organizations should remember to check the state of their equipment prior to making any substantial changes.
The role of the government officials should also be reevaluated as the actions of the governor of Flint, for instance, had a significant impact on the outcomes of the crisis. It is necessary to hold the state and city officials accountable for their actions and inaction equally. Morckel states that the city’s planning is also a problem that should be addressed (26). The fact that people leave the town due to the crisis further complicates the process of recovery for Flint. Therefore, other cities should take into account the need to create a stable infrastructure with viable and transparent solutions for the arising issues.
Why did the city’s officials want to switch to a new water source?
Response: The primary focus of the city’s government was to save money during the switch. The change from one type of water to another was not seen as something substantial, and the government was planning to decrease the expenses by using the same equipment and materials on the source of water closer to the city.
What would happen if the city did not ignore the concerns of the public from the beginning? What could be done?
Response: It is possible that the crisis could be less damaging if the city addressed the concerns and performed necessary tests on the water. Then, the officials could decide to switch to the old water sources sooner, change the pipes, choose a different cleaning method, or ask for financial aid.
“Flint Water Crisis Fast Facts.” CNN. 2017. Web.
Campbell, Carla, et al. “A Case Study of Environmental Injustice: The Failure in Flint.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 13, no. 10, 2016, p. 951.
Goetsch, David L. Occupational Safety and Health for Technologists, Engineers, and Managers. 7th ed., Prentice Hall, 2010.
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Gostin, Lawrence O. “Lead in the Water: A Tale of Social and Environmental Injustice.” JAMA, vol. 315, no. 19, 2016, pp. 2053-2054.
Morckel, Victoria. “Why the Flint, Michigan, USA Water Crisis Is an Urban Planning Failure.” Cities, vol. 62, 2017, pp. 23-27.
Olson, Terese M., et al. “Forensic Estimates of Lead Release from Lead Service Lines during the Water Crisis in Flint, Michigan.” Environmental Science & Technology Letters, vol. 4, no. 9, 2017, pp. 356-361.