In April of 2014 the city of Flint, Michigan was struggling with financial problems. To try and help their fiscal situation, they stopped buying drinking water from the city of Detroit and started drawing their own water from the Flint river. This poorly implemented decision created a wicked problem for everyone involved in the project, living in Flint, near Flint and anyone with a vested interest in the economy of the region. Not only did Flint city government officials switch their water, but they also later, in April of 2015, admitted that “the City did not have corrosion control treatment in place at the Flint Water Treatment Plant” (EPA, 2016).
This failure eroded the city’s old lead pipes and greatly contaminated the water. It quickly became clear that this water was not normal or safe, but despite the myriad of complaints that soon arose after the water switch from the people of Flint, it was denied that there was even a problem with the water by officials until January of the next year. Responding to the outbursts from the community, Professor Marc Edwards and a team of scientists from Virginia Tech came to do inhouse testing of the water. Their report stated “Of the 30 samples Edwards tested in his lab at Virginia Tech, the lowest lead level was 300 parts per billion (ppb). The average was 2,000 ppb, and the highest was more than 13,000 ppb” (Adams and Tuel, 2016).
This was immensely concerning considering the fact that the EPA considers 15 ppb of lead to be worth taking action against. Upon finding such outrageously contaminated water, Virginia Tech members became advocates for exposing the harmful hazard of the water, and instrumental in forcing the city government to make a change. Even then, when the city did acknowledged their shortcomings and released a notice informing the residents that their water wasn’t meeting the EPA regulations, that very release clearly stated that this was “not an emergency.” (Glasgow, 2015). It wasn’t until October of 2015 that the water was finally switched back from the Flint river to Detroit’s water supply.
Although the water was switched back to Detroit, detrimental problems that have no endpoint had already been created. For months after the switch, the tap water in the residents’ homes was considered unsafe, and many houses still have unsafe water today, over three years later. Even if the water soon does become somehow completely safe, the damages that resulted have no endpoint and are irreversible. Children developed and were born with disabilities related to lead poisoning, a Legionnaires disease outbreak which stemmed from the incident was the cause of 12 deaths, and much of the contaminated water seeped into the soil and possibly nearby waterways. Along with the social and environmental problems, is the economy of the surrounding area.
The contaminated water drove out businesses such as General Motors, which feared corrosion of their vehicle metals, and in turn, the employees lost their jobs. Another sustainable problem born out of the water crisis, was that of the excessive use, and improper recycling and disposal, of plastic water bottles. Unable to use their tap water, Flint residents began buying plastic water bottles, and the government began donating them to try and help, but a consequence from the plastic water bottles, is their disposal. In an interview with NBC news, Kris Thiel said, “In less than 24 hours, one of the bins filled up with a whopping 680 pounds of empty water bottles.” (Chuck, 2016)There is no real solution to this water crisis.
Just switching back from the Flint water cannot change the effects mentioned above, and no one solution could fix all of the different problems which arose from the crisis. Any solution that we may try to implement, would have more irreversible consequences, since we cannot predict all the outcomes of such a large system before implementing them. The vagueness of this problem contributes to its undefinability, as well.
Some people in this situation, such as the city government officials, continuously claimed that this water is safe and that there was no problem, whereas others, like the affected residents, refuse to drink the water, or trust officials ever again. Similarly, uniqueness plays a key role, in that, we are in uncharted territory. Fixing a vast array of specific problems that stemmed from this original crisis along with the crisis, in Flint, is something that has never been done before. A problem that’s new, specific, and unique to Flint, cannot use a solution that may have worked for any other water crisis because there are too many variables.
What may work in one area will not always work somewhere else. As impossible as this problem seems, it’s urgent that the contaminations, continued excessive use of plastics, lead poisoning, and all resulting issues stop. Each of these problems, if not fixed in a timely manner are bound to even greater reinforcing feedbacks to continue and make the problems all the worse. Flint Michigan’s crisis was a tragedy that I care about, and feel that should concern every American citizen, if not everyone at all.
In America, we are very blessed and privileged to have readily accessible water, and the majority of us have all of their needs met, but since we struggle so little, we take for granted all of the necessities of life that we do get, such as water. Flint was a great example showing that we never know what could happen and need to be prepared for any situation, as it could happen to any of us. If we, as a nation, could all learn from others’ experiences, we may have a much brighter future and avoid making the same mistakes as before. What could be done differently if this were to happen again? How can we move past all of the lingering problems? If I were in this situation, how would I have responded? Is there a way to hold people more responsible for the safety, at least in water, of our cities? ReferencesAdams, Mason and Tuel, Jesse. (2015). Fighting for Flint: A Virginia Tech team exposes lead poisoning. Retrieved fromhttp://www.
vtmag.vt.edu/spring16/fighting-for-flint.htmlChuck, Elizabeth. (2016, January 28). Flint’s next issue: What to do with empty water bottles? NBC News. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.
com/storyline/flint-water-crisis/flint-s-next-issue-what-do-empty-water-bottles-n505781City of Flint. (2015). Information about your drinking water. (Report No. 02310) Flint Michigan.
Retreived from https://www.cityofflint.com/wp-content/uploads/TTHM-Notification-Final.pdfUnited States of America Government. Environmental Protection Agency. (2016).
United States Environmental Protection Agency Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Washington, D.C. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-01/documents/1_21_sdwa_1431_emergency_admin_order_012116.pdf