Five years. That’s how much time has passed since the City of Flint switched its water source, exposing nearly 100,000 people to lead-tainted water. That crisis continues today and has traumatized the city in a way that will take more than another five years to fix. The legacy will likely last for generations.
That being said, Flint has come a long way since April 25, 2014, when Flint River water began flowing through the city’s pipes. This seemingly innocent move spiraled the city into a health crisis as officials failed to properly treat the water, causing the pipes to corrode and leach lead into the water supply. That tainted water no longer runs into homes as the city switched back to Detroit water in 2015, but that doesn’t mean the crisis is over.
As M-Live/The Flint Journal reported, many people still don’t drink their tap water. They don’t use their shower head water to bathe. That’s not because the water isn’t safe; it is, according to tests the MDEQ has run. In fact, that’s been the case since July 2016, yet residents are unwilling to drink from their taps again.
Corroded lead pipes still run through some homes, and people simply don’t trust in their leaders to be honest—not after all the lies they were fed at the height of the disaster. Many are still mourning the 12 who died from Legionnaires disease, a result of not chlorinating the water after switching to the Flint River in 2014.
The Flint water crisis drew celebrity attention—from the likes of young badass Jaden Smith to comedian Michelle Wolf. New members of Congress, including Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib and Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, have raised the alarm on the lessons we learned from Flint. Still, all this attention hasn’t exactly solved the problem of trust.
“Trauma like this where water is contaminated, and people’s lives are affected at all ages, all races, all ethnicities, all genders is not something that disappears,” said Agustin Arbulu, the director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, to Earther. “And for this community, it is not something that goes away easily. The distrust continues.”
The city is trying to help remediate some of that distrust by replacing all its lead and galvanized steel pipes that were left damaged from untreated Flint River water. This effort began in 2016 and is ongoing. The goal is to replace the remaining 2,000 lines by 2020. The project’s cost nearly $175 million so far, and the city received an additional $77 million interest-free loan from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) earlier this month.
And yet even as Flint tries to repair the damage that’s been done, a similar story is playing out across the country. Since Flint, we’ve seen lead contamination events hit New Jersey, Detroit, and Indiana. Millions of students face lead exposure in their schools.
In Flint, at least, residents are getting closer to finding justice. A judge ruled last week that the flurry of class action lawsuits that resulted from the crisis can move forward against the Environmental Protection Agency, which knew about the lead yet did nothing.
Many state agency directors, like Arbulu, will be in Flint Thursday as part of a day of remembrance, said Arbulu. It’s key that we, as a nation, remember this day and especially the role race played in allowing this to happen to the largely black city. Because let’s be real: This would never happen to a wealthy, white community.
Community members complained and complained. Federal and state officials knew lead was in the water supply. And no one cared. No one batted an eye because, well, this was Flint they were talking about, the so-called most dangerous city in America.
“That’s the legacy of the Flint water crisis,” Arbulu told Earther. “It is a lens of systemic racism that still lingers.”