We Are All Flint
How America’s moms are leading the battle for clean drinking water.
I know because tens of thousands of people write to me each month. I started creating a map and I have more than 10,000 communities across the U.S. recording their plights. People come to me, saying, there’s too many children on our street with cancer, or we’ve had too many high school kids die of brain tumors, or we live next to a superfund site and we think our water is contaminated. After one comes forward, then five follow, then 20, 30, more. I read hundreds of these emails everyday, and sometimes you have to be able to read between the lines. I can sense the urgency. I know when what people are saying is just not right. Some emails clearly speak volumes, and I’m like, we need to jump on this now. It’s about being responsive: Last February, when my investigator Bob Bowcock and I heard about Flint, he was on a plane the next day.
What has always stuck me the most were the instances where people’s health was deteriorating. This has been true from the time I was a little girl to my work in Hinkley and beyond. What’s that common denominator? It’s usually the water. The one thing that sustains us all.
Communities across the country have been dealing with lead issues for years — but they’ve always fallen on a deaf ear. Flint is simply the perfect storm.
I didn’t discover Flint — the community wrote to me. We got out there and tried to sound the alarm. There’s almost always a community leader, and nine times out of 10, it’s going to be a mom. She starts gathering the community, setting up town meetings so we can inform people about what’s happening. We show folks how to protect themselves and their families. We try to work with the emergency contingency team that’s in place — we do that everywhere we go, and they usually don’t want to hear it. They want to run things their way, they think we’re just there to cause trouble, but that’s not the case at all.
Unfortunately, it takes a huge crisis like Flint for everybody else to wake up.
Right now, we’re in this special moment where people are paying attention and raising their voices. These chemicals, this problem, did not just arise yesterday. People have been drinking water that’s contaminated with PFOA or lead or TCE or other chemicals for too long. Towns in New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York are learning that their water is contaminated. Schools have turned off water fountains due to lead poisoning. Hannibal, Missouri and Tyler, Texas and Sebring, Ohio are all sounding the alarm.
These issues don’t see any boundaries of rich or poor, black or white, Republican or Democrat. All kinds of people everywhere are being taken advantage of. There’s this false sense of security that we’ve all been lulled into, and only now are people actually waking up to reality.
Eventually this moment will go away, when the attention wanes, and we will all forget that it ever happened — until the next crisis hits the news.
Look, there’s plenty of blame to go around. It’s here. It’s happening, it’s been going on for a very long time. It will continue to go on, and it’s going to get worse until we have a disaster situation that we cannot turn around. Agencies have not listened; they haven’t done the right thing, either out of fear or greed. This is morally wrong on a thousand different levels. And this is where we have to change.
The EPA is over burdened, understaffed, and broke. And this agency oversees our Safe Drinking Water Act. If we are going to have these federal agencies, we need to actually support them. Because, frankly, right now they’re not doing any good.
Sure, there are some good, well-intentioned, intellectual people in the EPA who want to make a difference. I don’t want everybody to go down when someone makes a bad decision, but unfortunately, bad decisions are happening everywhere.
We learned just this week that, in a memo, an EPA official stated that “Flint was not worth going out on a limb for.” The fact that someone from the governmental agency that is there to protect the health and the welfare of the people made such a disgusting comment will tell you where the problem is.
I’m so perplexed by Governor Rick Snyder’s thinking. He should be criminally prosecuted because he has done so much damage. That’s my opinion. To continue to waste millions of dollars of tax payers’ money to defend himself — Where is your decency? Where is your integrity as a human being, Governor? Please step down. Save that money, give it to those people who need it, get out of office, and let us begin the difficult task of repairing this problem.
A version of this post originally appeared on Medium.
10 Things They Won’t Tell You about the Flint Water Tragedy. But I Will.
News of the poisoned water crisis in Flint has reached a wide audience around the world. The basics are now known: the Republican governor, Rick Snyder, nullified the free elections in Flint, deposed the mayor and city council, then appointed his own man to run the city. To save money, they decided to unhook the people of Flint from their fresh water drinking source, Lake Huron, and instead, make the public drink from the toxic Flint River. When the governor’s office discovered just how toxic the water was, they decided to keep quiet about it and covered up the extent of the damage being done to Flint’s residents, most notably the lead affecting the children, causing irreversible and permanent brain damage. Citizen activists uncovered these actions, and the governor now faces growing cries to resign or be arrested.
Here are ten things that you probably don’t know about this crisis because the media, having come to the story so late, can only process so much. But if you live in Flint or the State of Michigan as I do, you know all to well that what the greater public has been told only scratches the surface.
While the Children in Flint Were Given Poisoned Water to Drink, General Motors Was Given a Special Hookup to the Clean Water. A few months after Governor Snyder removed Flint from the clean fresh water we had been drinking for decades, the brass from General Motors went to him and complained that the Flint River water was causing their car parts to corrode when being washed on the assembly line. The Governor was appalled to hear that GM property was being damaged, so he jumped through a number of hoops and quietly spent $440,000 to hook GM back up to the Lake Huron water, while keeping the rest of Flint on the Flint River water. Which means that while the children in Flint were drinking lead-filled water, there was one — and only one — address in Flint that got clean water: the GM factory.
For Just $100 a Day, This Crisis Could’ve Been Prevented. Federal law requires that water systems which are sent through lead pipes must contain an additive that seals the lead into the pipe and prevents it from leaching into the water. Someone at the beginning suggested to the Governor that they add this anti-corrosive element to the water coming out of the Flint River. “How much would that cost?” came the question. “$100 a day for three months,” was the answer. I guess that was too much, so, in order to save $9,000, the state government said f*** it — and as a result the State may now end up having to pay upwards of $1.5 billion to fix the mess.
There’s More Than the Lead in Flint’s Water. In addition to exposing every child in the city of Flint to lead poisoning on a daily basis, there appears to be a number of other diseases we may be hearing about in the months ahead. The number of cases in Flint of Legionnaires Disease has increased tenfold since the switch to the river water. Eighty-seven people have come down with it, and at least ten have died. In the five years before the river water, not a single person in Flint had died of Legionnaires Disease. Doctors are now discovering that another half-dozen toxins are being found in the blood of Flint’s citizens, causing concern that there are other health catastrophes which may soon come to light.
ALL the Children Have Been Exposed, As Have All the Adults, Including Me.
That’s just a fact. If you have been in Flint anytime from April 2014 to today, and you’ve drank the water, eaten food cooked with it, washed your clothes in it, taken a shower, brushed your teeth or eaten vegetables from someone’s garden, you’ve been exposed to and ingested its toxins. When the media says “9,000 children under 6 have been exposed,” that means ALL the children have been exposed because the total number of people under the age of 6 in Flint is… 9,000! The media should just say, “all.” When they say “47 children have tested positive”, that’s just those who’ve drank the water in the last week or so. Lead enters the body and does it’s damage to the brain immediately. It doesn’t stay in the blood stream for longer than a few days and you can’t detect it after a month. So when you hear “47 children”, that’s just those with an exposure in the last 48 hours. It’s really everyone.