EXPLORE THE CAUSES AND EFFECTS OF THE FLINT WATER CRISIS
The City of Flint in Michigan has been in the headlines for the ongoing discussion of a major man-made public health debacle resulting in lead seepage into drinking water that prompted the then President Obama to declare a medical emergency in the city. The city officials in a bid to cut costs decided to use a local supply of water that was not tested for lead due to a minor loophole in the regulations governing the testing that would determine its feasibility to be consumed (Felton, 2016). Till early 2013, the residents of Flint were spending huge sums of money for the water that was being sourced from the city of Detroit.
The water from the Flint River that was used to replace the water supply from Detroit have high levels of corrosive chemicals that even automobile major General Motors refused to use the water in its plant since it was causing heavy rusting of the metallic engine parts! While the automobile major was allowed a different source is water, the natives continued to be supplied the water from the Flint River that was corroding the water supply pipes and ensuring that residents continued to be supplied with water containing lead (Felton, 2016).
Cause of the Flint water crisis
This water has now become the source of a public health debacle that has endangered the lives of the residents of Flint. The exceedingly high levels of lead contamination in all water tested in the area resulted in denial from the local administration and then the admission of a possibility of error on the part of the concerned authorities. March 2013 marked a major change for the residents of Flint. Not because their water supply was to become cheaper, but because the local administration was about to initiate steps that would pose a health hazard for the young and old alike. The life for residents of the city of Flint was to change forever.
In a bid to bring down the cost of water being supplied to the city of Flint, the local authorities decided to change the water source from Lake Huron to Flint River. Unfortunately, the water from this source was later found to contain high levels of e-Coli bacteria that were a result of natural decomposition of organic waste. Residents also voiced concerns on the foul smelling and bitter tasting, colored fluid now flowing out of the water taps. Subsequent tests on the water showed extremely high lead content which was the primary source of all ailments in the city from 2013 onwards.
Despite the ban on high lead soldering and use of lead pipes enacted by the congress through their Clean Water Drinking Act, 1974; lead content in water continued to create problems for health authorities in the country (Sellers, 2016). While federal law mandated a constant monitoring of all households in areas where 10 per cent households tested showed more lead levels above the safety limit. Yet, the city of Flint slipped through the cracks in the clumsy bureaucratic machinery of the state of Michigan thanks to the collective cohesion of the local politicians and bureaucrats.
Effects of the Flint water crisis
The woes of the residents did not stop there. While the local administration continued to deny the problems in the water supply, the high e-coli content prompted health care authorities to increase the disinfectant chlorine in the water treatment process leading to a spike in the TTHMs (Trihaomethanes) (Sellers, 2016). Authorities now tried to control matters and flushed the entire system, but forgot to eliminate the root cause, the corrosion of the water pipes! While the alkalinity present in the water was significantly reduced and even removed to a certain extent by treating it for turbidity removal, disinfection and softening, it only lead a 100 per cent increase in the level of chloride, thus complicating matters further (Kennedy, 2016).
Despite al the hue and cry nothing was done to identify the corrosion of the lead and iron pipes supplying the water or preparing a corrosion control plan as mandated by federal authorities. All this irresponsibly behavior resulted in significantly high levels of BLLs blood lead levels in children in the area. Unfortunately, this lead poisoning cannot be reversed (Sellers, 2016). Many lives have been irreversibly damaged and destroyed by the carelessness of an administration that did not place enough value to human health and life. While the administration was focused on cutting costs and reducing the costs of water supplied to homes in Flint; they bought about a health crisis that has far reaching repercussions. Some of the ailments affecting the residents in the area include kidney failures, weakening muscles, extremely severe stomachaches, and seizures (Lapook, 2016). Death is also not unexpected in cases of severe lead poisoning. Children below six years of age would face slow mental growth, learning disability, problems with brain development and reduced IQ levels (Goodnough, 2016). The city has also reported an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease during the period.
The United States has a history of lead contamination dating back to two major water related epidemics in the 1890s as well as the early 1900s. While this fact may make heads turn and question authorities on the viability of using lead pipes if they are so dangerous; this is but just an addition to the long line of tragedies associated with lead poisoning in the country (Sellers, 2016). It is also important to remember that these lead pipes start corroding only when exposed to highly alkaline or acidic water supplies. The water crisis at Flint is primarily due to the irresponsible actions and decisions of the politician-officials nexus. They conspired to entice the city with lower water costs. Unfortunately, their brand of politics, ineptitude and lack of environmental knowhow resulted in the issuance of a death sentence worse than death for the residents of the city (Kennedy, 2016).
Kennedy, M. (2016). Lead-Laced Water In Flint: A Step-By-Step Look At The Makings Of A Crisis Available at: http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/04/20/465545378/lead-laced-water-in-flint-a-step-by-step-look-at-the-makings-of-a-crisis [Accessed 6 Dec. 2016].
Felton, R (2016). Flint’s water crisis: what went wrong. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jan/16/flints-water-crisis-what-went-wrong [Accessed 6 Dec. 2016].
Sellers, C. (2016). The Flint Water Crisis: A Special Edition Environment and Health Roundtable Available at: http://edgeeffects.net/flint-water-crisis [Accessed 6 Dec. 2016].
Lapook, J. (2016). Doctors explain the long-term health effects of Flint water crisis Available at: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/doctors-explain-the-long-term-health-effects-of-flint-water-crisis/ [Accessed 6 Dec. 2016].
Goodnough, A. (2016). A potent side effect of the Flint Water Crisis: Mental Health Problems. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/01/us/flint-michigan-water-crisis-mental-health.html?_r=0 [Accessed 6 Dec. 2016].