Michigan governor Rick Snyder is facing harsh criticism and accusations of ignoring the present water crisis in the city of Flint, Michigan, located nearly 70 miles northwest of Detroit. The 100,000 citizens of Flint have been unable to drink the city’s water due to extremely high levels of lead.
Although this issue has just recently come to light, it has been ongoing for nearly two years. In April 2014, the city of Flint ceased use of Detroit’s water supply and started using water from the Flint River in order to save money, as over 41 percent of Flint’s residents live below the poverty line, according to CNN.
At the time, although the Flint River was known by its citizens to be dirty and was thought to be toxic, the Flint city government confirmed that the water was safe to drink, according to The New York Times. However, residents complained about the smell and color of the water until August 2014, when officials issued boil alerts when concerning levels of coliform bacteria were found in the water. Additionally, it was discovered that water from the Flint River was so corrosive, it caused lead in the pipes to leach into citizens’ water supply.
Last January, Detroit offered to allow Flint to use its water again, but the city government refused and confirmed water from the Flint River was safe to drink in March 2015. However, a study done in September by doctors at Hurley Medical Center found high levels of lead in the blood of children living in Flint, ABC News reported. Despite these findings, state officials maintained the water was safe to intake. However, Snyder acknowledged the discovery of lead and pledged to solve the problem. By October 2015, Snyder called for Flint to return to Detroit’s water supply.
The New York Times reported that Snyder declared a state of emergency in Flint in December 2015, which extended to all of Genesee County on Jan. 5, 2016.
Since then, Snyder has publicly apologized for the crisis, to little avail, as many of Flint’s citizens are calling for his resignation. Additionally, according to The Washington Post, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan found that incriminating excerpts had been removed from early reports on Flint’s water.
On Saturday, Jan. 16, President Obama declared a federal state of emergency for Genesee County and permitted $5 million in federal aid to be allocated to Flint, according to BBC News.
Although Flint’s residents have been calling for solutions to the water crisis for several months, the Environmental Protection Agency finally intervened on Thursday, Jan. 21, calling to action the state of Michigan.
The EPA’s regional director, Susan Hedman, announced her resignation on Jan. 21, after Michigan’s water quality director did the same weeks prior.
To illustrate the level of lead, a team of researchers at Virginia Tech released a study in the summer of 2015 examining the 90th percentile of homes in Flint and its neighboring cities. 10 percent of homes in Flint were noted to have over 27 parts per billion of lead, according to The Washington Post. The highest level noted was 158 parts per billion. To compare, the 90th percentile of homes in Detroit has just over two parts per billion, and the EPA considers five parts per billion cause for concern. At 15 parts per billion, the EPA recommends—but does not demand—that cities take action to star reducing the amount of lead in the water.
At the end of 2015, these researchers retested 30 homes, finding that the lowest readings of lead were about 200 parts per billion. Half of the homes tested exceeded 1,000 parts per billion, and some were over 5,000 parts per billion, falling into the EPA’s category of toxic waste.
Editor’s Note: Information from CNN, The New York Times, ABC News, The Washington Post and BBC News was used in this report.