Drinking water in the city of Flint appeared to be contaminated with high levels of lead when the city began to temporarily draw its water for drinking from the Flint River. The water would then be treated at the water treatment plant in the city. The switch was temporary and was to stop upon the completion of the new water pipeline to Lake Huron. Initially, the city used water from Lake Huron, which was treated by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. In time, there was leaching of lead from the fixtures and pipes into the drinking water. By the 15th of April 2015, tests conducted on the water showed that the people in Flint were being exposed to significant levels of lead by simply using that water. The doctors in the district raised concerns mainly because of the neurological effects that such poisoning would have on the long-term health of children. However, this was a man-made water disaster, and the state officials were extraordinarily slow to respond to the crisis. This paper aims to make an argument about the factors that may have influenced the response of the state.
The tests administered by the state on individuals regarding lead exposure showed that only a small number of people who were exposed to lead had elevated blood lead levels. This is one of the reasons for the slow response to the issue of the officials. For instance, the recent report released by the state based on tests that were conducted between October and December of 2015 showed that 43 people had elevated blood lead levels (Durando, 2016). The number is just a fraction of the actual number of people exposed to lead. However, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the government’s tests only measured the amount of lead in a person’s blood. The tests done today would therefore not show the past exposure since the amount of lead in a person’s blood decreases in about 30 days (Durando, 2016).
The government was also focused on the savings from switching the water sources from Lake Huron to the Flint River. It was estimated that the savings from such a move would be about 15 million dollars. According to the New York Times, someone had told the governor long before the shift was done that the river had too many toxins, but this information was ignored. One of his assistants even said that they probably should add a safe-to-drink ‘corrosive protector’ to the water (Kelly, 2016). This would have helped in preventing lead from leaching out of the aging water pipe infrastructure into the drinking water. It would also have brought extra costs of 100 dollars a day for three months. Such costs were too high according to the governor who was even quoted saying that “lead is a seasonal thing” and hence there was no reason to worry about it (Kelly, 2016).
The slow response could also be attributed to environmental racism, which refers to the disproportionate exposure of black people to polluted soil, water and air. This is considered to be the result of segregation and poverty that has placed black people and other racial minorities in some of the most dilapidated or industrialized environments (Eligon, 2016). Flint is a city that is notorious for aging infrastructure, poverty and a declining population. Many can attest to the fact that a great percentage of the population in Flint is black people and most of them are poor. Whether or not class and race were contributing factors to the slow and often antagonistic response by the state, the result was still the same. Thousands of residents in Flint were exposed to contaminated drinking water (Southall, 2016).
In most countries, genuine complaints or issues raised regarding the government by some community representatives are often seen to be politically motivated. The environmental regulators for the state believed that the activists in Flint were only trying to play politics with the lead exposure issue. One email even referred to them as an “anti-everything group” (Eligon, 2016). Looking at issues from a global perspective encourages people to look for connections between processes and events even when they expect to find nothing. In times of financial crisis, the aspect of political and economic interdependence between the nations of the world often takes place (McCarty, 2013). Even when the levels of lead exceeded the allowable value by the federal government, Mr. Snyder’s staff still prepared a memo for him, in which they said that the issue was “not a top health concern” and that the residents needed an in-depth understanding of the situation (Eligon, 2016).
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The issue was dismissed for the reason that it would be settled within the short period of time once the connection to the new water system was provided. The staff also played a role in aggravating the issue (Delaney, 2016). At some point, Marco Rubio called the water source in Flint River a lake and regarded the contamination as potential lead poisoning. Such remarks show that when issues of a kind are looked at from a political view, the facts are disregarded. Even when outside researchers and doctors managed to provide factual documentation about such issues, the state would still insist that the crisis was not as widespread as research had found (Timm, 2016). Politics thus shifted the main focus of the issue, which caused the late response.
The residents did not have a clue as to what exactly may have caused the change in taste and odour and brought the negative effects that they were experiencing. Therefore, the government took long to respond since it was capitalizing on their ignorance and gaining time until the new system would become ready. However, the intervention of doctors led to the exposure of the negative consequences that such a water system caused to the population. According to Doctor Hanna-Attisha, when paediatricians hear about lead, they become anxious about children’s health since it is a potent neurotoxin. Thus, when she heard that the city of Flint was not doing corrosion control to prevent the leaching of lead from the aging pipes into the water supply, she immediately became aware of the potential consequences (Dr. Sanjay Gupta, 2016). She is among the few people that brought the issue to light since she had the knowledge and the platform to do it.
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Every government often finds ways of minimizing costs and increasing savings while still trying to ensure high levels of efficiency in service delivery. This was the major reason for the shift in water source in the city of Flint. Most of the important aspects were overlooked in the process due to political influence, cost reduction, ignorance and poverty to a point where a crisis was declared in an effort to save the situation. The enormous transformations that the government hoped to bring through the switch in water sources could not have done much to change discrimination, inequality, and poverty. The government received funding to help control the situation so as to prevent further damage.