Flint is the largest city of Genesee County, Michigan, United States. It is located along the Flint River, 66 miles (106 km) northwest of Detroit. According to a 2020 census, Flint had a population of 81,252, making it the twelfth largest city in Michigan.
The city of Flint has faced several crises since the 1960’s. It experienced an economic downturn after GM downsized its workforce from 80,000 individuals in 1978 to about 8,000 by 2010. Therefore, from 1960 to 2010, the population of the city nearly halved and crime rates rose.
Additionally, from 2014 to 2019 Flint faced a public health emergency, an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease. This was due to lead contamination in parts of the local water supply. This specific public health emergency is known as the Flint water crisis.
What is the Flint Water Crisis?
The Flint water crisis began in 2014, when the city switched its drinking water supply from Detroit’s system to the Flint River. This was done to save money. Previously for the past five decades or so, the city had been piping treated water to its residents from the Detroit river, and in 2014 switched to temporarily pumping water from the Flint River to its residents. This was to be done until a new water pipeline from Lake Huron was built due to it being a cheaper alternative.
The issue regarding this switch is that for more than a century, the Flint River, which flows through the city, has been used as an unofficial waste disposal site for treated and untreated refuse from many local industries. The waterway has also received raw sewage from the city’s waste treatment plant, agricultural, urban runoff, and toxics from leaching landfills, thus making the river water highly corrosive. Flint officials had failed to treat the water, and this then led to lead, a chemical element leaching out from aging pipes into thousands of homes for the residents to use.
Inadequate treatment and testing of the water resulted in major water quality and health issues for Flint residents. These issues were ignored, overlooked, and discounted by government officials even as complaints accumulated from residents stating that foul-smelling, discolored, and off-tasting water was piped into their homes for 18 months.
Issues that arose from the poor water quality include skin rashes, hair loss, and itchy skin. Studies that were done later on revealed that the contaminated water was also contributing to a significant increase of the incidence of elevated blood lead levels in the city’s children. Therefore endangering the health of the younger generation. The city’s switch from Detroit water to the Flint River water coincided with an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease which killed 12 and sickened at least 87 people between June 2014 and October 2015.
How Does this Relate to Water Accessibility?
Water Accessibility as defined by the CDC is having access to safe drinking water which is measured by the percentage of the population having access to and using improved drinking water sources.
The water quality in Flint, Michigan was not safe to consume, and at the time there was no other access to any other adequate water source for Flint residents, as it was switched. The majority of the population did not have access to improved drinking water sources, and were using the contaminated water for a period of time. Water accessibility and sanitation is considered to be a human right for all to have access to these services, and this was not the case for Flint Michigan. They did not have access to clean water.
Years after the water crisis has been rectified and the lead crisis has been addressed, there is still question as to whether the water is still considered “accessible”. Because, although safe water is now being provided, the community does not want to use it, as there is still a legacy of distrust in public authorities.
The city has installed modern copper pipes to nearly every home, however it is important to note that many Michigan residents are still getting their water from lead pipes due to lack of funding and political will. In November of 2021 the Biden administration’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), was passed and reserved $15 billion for lead pipe removal. However, it was reported by the Prospect that the final bill’s allocation still fell short of the $60 billion figure that the drinking water industry estimated is needed to replace every known lead pipe.
Assessing Access to Water & Sanitation | Global Water, Sanitation and Hygiene | Healthy Water | CDC. (n.d.). CDC. Retrieved February 22, 2022 from https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/global/assessing.html#:%7E:text=Access%20to%20safe%20drinking%20water%20is%20measured%20by%20the%20percentage,Public%20standpipe
Wikipedia contributors. (2022b, February 21). Flint, Michigan. Wikipedia. Retrieved February 22, 2022, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flint,_Michigan
Denchak, M. (n.d.-b). Flint Water Crisis: Everything You Need to Know. NRDC. Retrieved February 22, 2022, from https://www.nrdc.org/stories/flint-water-crisis-everything-you-need-know
CNN Editorial Research. (2021, January 14). Flint Water Crisis Fast Facts. CNN. Retrieved February 18, 2022, from https://edition.cnn.com/2016/03/04/us/flint-water-crisis-fast-facts/index.html
Lead-Laced Water In Flint: A Step-By-Step Look At The Makings Of A Crisis. (2016, April 20). NPR. Retrieved February 18, 2022, from https://choice.npr.org/index.html?origin=https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/04/20/465545378/lead-laced-water-in-flint-a-step-by-step-look-at-the-makings-of-a-crisis
Assessing Access to Water & Sanitation | Global Water, Sanitation and Hygiene | Healthy Water | CDC. (n.d.-b). CDC. Retrieved February 24, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/global/assessing.html
Dennis, B. B. G. (2021, September 17). In Flint, Michigan, effects from the clean water crisis remain. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/interactive/2021/flint-clean-water-crisis-photos/
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