Source: DeSmogBlog.com, by Farron Cousins
On January 16, 2016, President Obama declared a federal emergency for the city of Flint, Michigan, over the contamination of the city’s drinking water.
One year later, not only is the city still struggling to provide clean sources of water to the Michigan city’s population, but the plight of residents in Flint has opened up the conversation about a water crisis in the United States that very few people even knew existed.
The sad story of Flint, Michigan, gained national attention because it was a crisis that was entirely avoidable, at least for the time being. Republican Michigan Governor Rick Snyder was looking for ways to cut costs, so he hired an outside manager to come up with ideas on how to do that. Unfortunately, one of the ideas that was put into action was to change the source of Flint’s drinking water from the Detroit water system to the Flint River, which was known to be heavily polluted. When that contaminated water hit the city’s aging water delivery infrastructure, the chemicals interacted with the lead pipes, causing dangerous levels of lead contamination for residents who did not have water filters.
The problem with Flint, and the problem with many water delivery systems throughout the United States, is that lead pipes are time bombs.
Like most metals, lead will break down over time, especially when it is exposed to corrosive water throughout its existence. When you have close to 1.2 million miles of lead pipes for water delivery in America — pipes that only have a lifespan of about 75 years and many are reaching that age — you have a recipe for disaster that experts warn will cost close to $1 trillion to fix.
The only reason that the crisis in Flint, Michigan, was brought to the public’s attention was because of one woman, a pediatrician named Mona Hanna-Attisha, who began noticing the symptoms of lead poisoning in an extremely large number of children from Flint. Dr. Hanna-Attisha went public with this information, which prompted investigations from civil engineers, leading to the unveiling of the problem. At the time of Dr. Hanna-Attisha’s discovery, the contaminated water had been flowing through taps in Flint for two years.
Sadly, Flint is just a tiny piece in a much larger story. Likely the reason the crisis in Flint made national headlines is because of the level of political incompetence that went along with it. But the story did wake people up to the idea that dangerous water could be anywhere, and that led to investigations by reporters who uncovered one of the potentially most overlooked stories of 2016.
On December 19, 2016, Reuters released a startling report about America’s drinking water. Reuters’ investigation concluded that there were nearly 3,000 other locales in the United States where the lead contamination in drinking water was at least double the rates found in Flint’s drinking water. These were not areas where the contamination was the same, or even slightly elevated. No, these 3,000 areas have contamination levels that came in at least twice as high as Flint.