Four years ago, dirty water contaminated with lead started flowing from Flint’s taps, causing sickness and death, while officials denied there was a problem. “When we are dead and gone, these children will suffer for what we failed to do!” Now, officials insist the water is safe to drink – but residents don’t trust them. How many people have me buried and babies have died because of this, and we’re just supposed to get over it? As an ordinary citizen, if I poison one individual, I would be in prison.
And they poisoned an entire city of people and no one is being held accountable. The state of Michigan has stopped providing free bottled water to Flint, forcing people to spend thousands of dollars on water to drink, cook, bathe and even flush the toilet. And water bills here are already some of the highest in the country. Why should the people of Flint pay for water that poisoned them, that they don’t trust and, in a lot of cases, they don’t even use? Because the water is safer.
It’s crazy to think that it’s been over two years since we were last here in Flint, and being back here now, it’s clear that not much has changed. The last time we visited, things were in bad shape.They said something about the water not being fixed until 2035. The crisis began in April 2014 when the city temporarily switched its water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River to save money. But the water from the river wasn’t properly treated,so the pipes corroded and leached lead. Discolored, foul-smelling water started flowing out of taps. Despite complaints, city officials denied there was a problem for almost two years before declaring a state of emergency.
More than a dozen people died, while others lost hair and developed rashes. Since then, 15 officials have been charged, some with involuntary manslaughter. On the four-year anniversary of the day Flint’s water was switched, residents were no less angry. Bottom line is I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. I didn’t know things like this go on in America, and I’m 37 years old and disabled and worrying about my kids every night, like all of us are. Since the water crisis began, she’s struggled to stay afloat. So you’re told your water is fine. You stopped getting this free bottled water? And now you have to buy it? In April, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder announced the state would stop providing Flint with free bottled water, claiming nearly two years of test results showed the lower lead levels. That sparked outrage. Christina, like other Flint residents, relies on filters. Even though she doesn’t trust the water, she still has to pay hundreds of dollars a month for it. My water was shut off last month, and they made me come up with $860 – no, $838. And I’m living off of like $600 a month right now.
Christina’s youngest child is 2-year-old Declan. She was 16 weeks pregnant with him when news broke about lead in the water. As a newborn, Declan made headlines after his first bath was given entirely with bottled water. So this baby has never known clean water his whole life? He only knows bottled water? Bottled water, or heavily filtered water. Has he had any sort of health side effects of the lead? Do you know? We do know that he could be cognitively impaired, but we won’t find out until he’s like 3 or 4 years old. Last year, Christina had her children screened for various toxins, including lead, through hair follicle tests. Arsenic is somewhere around 70, 80. The lead is beyond the 95th percentile.
Yeah, the lead’s beyond. And then the total toxic representation is 100. As her family reels from the effects of the crisis, Christina’s lost all faith in the government. What was the governor’s words to the mayor the other day? “Get over it. ” Well, tell my my kids that. You know, please, Governor Snyder, tell my kids that to their faces, to get over the fact that they’ve been poisoned and that their legs hurt, and that they have night sweats and that they shake sometimes. And that their mommy can’t play with them the way she used to because she’s too sick. And we’re just supposed to get over it? Because so many of Flint’s children are exposed to lead, there’s now an entire school created specifically to help them. Cummings Great Expectations serves 142 young ones, ages zero to 4. So each of these children has been affected by lead? Every single one in our building has been affected by the water. So they were a part of the water line from April 2014 through August 2016. You coming to say hello? Checking everybody out? Site director Lindsey Kerry showed us how classrooms double as observation rooms and teachers are trained to look out for symptoms of lead poisoning. So this is one of our early head-start classrooms that has the observation window where people can come in and observe the classroom without being intrusive on their day. There’s alot of different challenges that we see.
We see some developmental delays, whether it becomes, you know, speech and language, the cognitive, taking a little bit longer to talk. Our kids really struggle in the social areas. We’re seeing a lot of asthma, skin conditions from the exposure to the lead in the water. So how did you feel when it was recently announced that free bottled water will no longer be provided to Flint residents? Yeah, I’m not going to lie, I cried. A lot of people tell me, “You’ve got to be so happy that the water crisis is over now,” and my response is always that blank stare of “it’s not over!”. And it’s so difficult for Flint’s poorest residents to pay their water bills that foreclosures are becoming more common.
For most residents, it’s just another result of a long history of neglect. Certanya Johnson has some of the highest water bills in Flint. In 2017, she received a letter from the city stating she owed $10,000 in water payments. It was later reduced to $6,000. “Our records indicate that you have a past-due balance for the amount of $6,916. ” And then they say, “When you do not pay the amount, you incur the penalty and are on our shutoff list. ” So they’re threatening to shut off your water? Yes. What are you going to do? I don’t know. Certanya’s only income comes from Social Security, which is roughly $800 a month. Her health is suffering.
She’s had five strokes since 2015.What do you think the city or the state owes you right now? To pay my bill, I really do.Get that water bill resolved, they owe me that much.This is one of the areas where they’re replacing thousands of contaminated pipes to remove any traces of lead.The work is scheduled to be completed by 2020.Now, if you live in a neighborhood that hasn’t had its pipes replaced yet, chances are you’re not using the water.But you’re still getting charged for it. Hughey Newsom is Flint’s new chief financial officer.He comes from the private sector and supports the city shutting off people’s water for lack of payment.Why should the city of Flint pay for water that poisoned them, that they don’t trust and, in a lot of cases, they don’t even use? Because the water is safer.We have worked so hard to get to go from where we were at, the beginning of the crisis to now.The poverty in Flint is undeniable, and people are still reeling from being poisoned by the lead in the water and yet they have some of the highest water bills in the country.Is that fair? I don’t think it’s fair, but it’s – unfortunately, right now it’s a financial reality, and we’re working very, very diligently to address that. We’ve really tried to communicate to residents that, you know, if you’re using the water, you have to pay for it.If you don’t pay for it, other residents have to pay for it, but then other bad things happen.The last thing we want to do is to have someone else control this.A lot of people would argue that they shouldn’t have to pay anything.That someone else should step in, maybe the state, and pay their water bills.Well, and I don’t want to get too deep into what the state should or should not be doing.People, when they’re billed for water,they’re billed for water and sewer together.You’re using sewer.
There’s no question you’re using it, so you should also be paying for that service as well.So let’s not talk about what happened in the past so that you can circumvent paying for a service that you have now.But residents we spoke to still haven’t let go of the past.Rapper Ira Dorsey, who goes by “Bootleg,” grew up here.His group, the Dayton Family, has used music to call attention to the entrenched poverty in Flint.Growing up back in the early 90’s, this was an affluent neighborhood.I mean, there was people everywhere, people were working for General Motors and everybody income was well and families were living good, the violence was real low.And it was a fun place to grow up.Back in Flint then, it was over 200,000 people here.And now it’s down to like 80,000 people.So this is just a remnant of what Flint used to be.What does justice for Flint look like to you? I would like to see people being prosecuted.Because to me, as an ordinary citizen, if I poison one individual, I would be in prison.And they poisoned an entire city of people, and no one is being held accountable.Not at the level where the decisions are being made.Flint is still one of the most dangerous cities in the U.Budget cuts have slashed police and fire departments.For locals, the water crisis is just another systemic failure.They let us down.The EPA stood by and left us out here to die.And that’s the way we feel.Bootleg’s song “City of Lead” calls out former and current officials for their failure to adequately address the water crisis.“We got lead inside the water, we got lead in our guns.These politicians poisoning our sons and daughters for fun.Washing my face and hands with nothing’ but bottled water and wipes to save a buck while this administration ruined the pipes.And now we’re fighting for our lives and asking who can we trust…” This is not a third-world country.We live in the wealthiest country in the world.And at the end of the day, while we’re fighting battles overseas in other countries, we need to invest in our country.that’s an update on the Flint water crisis.