"The City of Flint has experienced a Manmade disaster"
December 15, 2015 9:51 AM   Subscribe

The city of Flint, Michigan, disconnected its municipal water supply from the Detroit system in April 2014 while a new pipeline to Lake Huron was being installed. The interim supply came from the local Flint River, and almost immediately, people complained that the new water was cloudy and smelled bad. Over the next eighteen months, though, the news got worse, and the state came up with $12 million to switch the water supply back. This week, the newly elected Mayor of Flint declared an emergency due to skyrocketing lead levels in the blood of Flint's children, asking the Genesee County Board of Commissioners to address the situation.
posted by Etrigan (76 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
 
"Those who could afford it opted for bottled water, buying it by the gallons. Those who couldn’t spare the money drank it straight from the tap all the same, knowing that they would be paying for it later."

Class struggle in two sentences.
posted by giraffe at 9:59 AM on December 15, 2015 [167 favorites]


Welcome to Rick Snyder's Wonderland... cut all necessary services and pass the savings along to big business.

The nasal voiced nerd has run this state into the ground.
posted by HuronBob at 10:00 AM on December 15, 2015 [19 favorites]


Horrifying story.

A few notes to make it even more disturbing: First, boiling water does nothing to remove lead. It might drive off some of the volatile contaminants (so you can breathe them in -- awesome) and it'll kill any bacteria. But it does nothing to remove lead.

Second, kids are the most at risk when it comes to lead, but it's not awesome for adults either.

Third, it sounds (from the symptoms and the description of the water) like there's more than just lead going on here.
posted by pie ninja at 10:02 AM on December 15, 2015 [10 favorites]


Fun fact: the EPA "action level" for lead in drinking water -- that is, the highest level you're supposed to be able to find before corrective action is required -- is 15 parts per billion. The citizen groups leading the charge in Flint are citing analysis that found lead levels peaking at 1,000 parts per billion in the water coming out of people's taps.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:03 AM on December 15, 2015 [19 favorites]


I feel so badly for the parents here; theirchildren's lives have possibly been made permanently worse because they relied on an essential service from the government that was supposed to protect them. I'm a special education attorney in area with an older housing stock that's struggling to get issues from lead paint and older pipes under control. While there's a strong class element to who suffers here, at least it's not from an actual deliberate act that could easily be avoided by any combination of 1) staying on Detroit water, 2) staying on Detroit water until the pipeline was built, or 3) Testing water from the Flint River before putting it into the drinking supply. That stuff is pretty basic governing.

Through continued demonstrations by Flint residents and mounting scientific evidence of the water’s toxins, city and state officials offered various solutions — from asking residents to boil their water to providing them with water filters — in an attempt to work around the need to reconnect to the Detroit system.

Don't try to boil lead out of your water. It will not work. If anything you'll just have a slightly higher concentration of lead in the water after some boils off.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:04 AM on December 15, 2015 [15 favorites]


Worth noting that it is hard to overstate how AWFUL lead is for the human body. The effects are significant, developmental, and lifelong.

Lead poisoning was (arguably) the foremost environmental health crisis of 20th century USA, and it the effect has been greatly reduced, though there's still more work to do. Incidents like this are mind-boggling.

Children are more at risk because their bodies are small, still developing, and because they do stuff that gets lead into their bodies (playing in soil, touching their mouth with their hands), but it's a lot harder to avoid tap water.
posted by entropone at 10:05 AM on December 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


One day, before I die, I'd like to be able to say "WTF AMERICA?!" in a tone of pleasant surprise instead of one of abject disgust.
posted by entropicamericana at 10:09 AM on December 15, 2015 [17 favorites]


Surely the city tested its supply in accordance with SDWA regulations. So, either:

1. The testing was not performed or was flawed (unlikely)

2. The testing or reporting was fudged (possible, it happens, but unlikely)

3. The change in water quality (eg, pH) leached lead out of lead pipes at higher rates than previously (possible)
posted by BentFranklin at 10:12 AM on December 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality had some emails leaked around this:
Frankly, it seemed some state officials thought dealing with inquiries about lead in Flint was a hassle.
"... I just got a call from MI Public Radio[sic] about an EPA notice to Flint about elevated lead levels in the water. Apparently, you were cc'd on EPA's note. Can you call me ASAP? Thanks!" MDEQ spokesman Brad Wurfel wrote to a handful of department officials in a July 9 e-mail.
Karen Tommasulo, another MDEQ public information officer, wrote back: "This is what Curt Guyette had been calling about, by the way. Apparently it's going to be a thing now."
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 10:14 AM on December 15, 2015 [11 favorites]


The death throes of Flint are so painful to watch. A couple of years ago, the big news was arson fires being left to burn because the Flint fire department didn't have the resources to fight them, and neighboring towns had ended their mutual-assistance pacts with Flint because it was too costly in time, manpower, and money for them to respond to fires in Flint. Now this.

I grew up in a small town near Flint, and Flint was where we went to shop, eat in restaurants, see movies, go roller-skating on a Saturday. I taught in Flint for some years. Watching the city be gutted over the years since than has been painful, as has knowing what it's like there for the people who aren't able to leave, or don't want to. I feel it a bit more viscerally than I do the similar things happening in Detroit, just because I know the city that much better. Now I live near Lansing; a few years ago, a couple of the big GM plants in Lansing closed. Now, between the west-side Lansing neighborhood we used to live in, and the cluster of strip malls, movie theaters, restaurants, and shopping mall a mile, mile and a half west of the neighborhood, the main thoroughfare goes through nearly a mile where there is nothing but old parking lots and rail lines, and whatever debris is left from the factories being torn down. Factories weren't the best neighbors, but they were better than a wasteland. There's no replacing those jobs.

Before the last school year, the Lansing School District fired all of its gym, music, and art teachers. I have several friends who've been unable to sell houses they own in Lansing. I think we're watching the beginning of Lansing going down the road Flint and Detroit are on.

I don't know that I've heard of anything worse than this water situation in Flint, though. The direct and irrevocable harm done to children by lead—it's unconscionable. Perhaps declaring a state of emergency can get things moving so further damage is limited, but so much damage is already done.
posted by not that girl at 10:14 AM on December 15, 2015 [41 favorites]


@BentFranklin

4. Incompetence. It had been so long since their treatment facility was run that no one knew how to do it properly anymore. (highly possible)
posted by sbutler at 10:15 AM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Why is there that much lead in the river water in the first place?

EDIT: Improper anticorrosion treatments in the pipes. Yay infrastructure!
posted by fnerg at 10:16 AM on December 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


I just got a call from MI Public Radio[sic]

This is a very small thing but it's bugging me. I don't understand why there's a [sic] there. Help?
posted by not that girl at 10:16 AM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Why is there that much lead in the river water in the first place?

It's not about lead in the river water. It's about the corrosive nature of the river water leeching lead out of the pipes or the pipe welds while it travels through the city on the way to homes. The river water itself, (from everything I've read about this, and it's something I've been background-following for about 4 months now), is full of horrible things and the treatment system tries to get rid of the worst things, but then after it leaves the treatment plant, it picks up more horrible things along the way.
posted by hippybear at 10:20 AM on December 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


For those wondering how this state of affairs came to pass, the link under "the news got worse," does a pretty good job laying out the backstory. (This previously covers more of Detroit Water and Sewerage's issues.)
posted by notyou at 10:20 AM on December 15, 2015


Because it's Michigan Radio.
posted by OmieWise at 10:20 AM on December 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


I thought Gov. Snyder had announced a resolution to this?
I remember reading about it during the spring and summer and the news reports felt like the beginning of a horror movie when there's that one character who keeps insisting that something terrible is afoot, and gets patronized by the rest of the group.
posted by Octaviuz at 10:22 AM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Snyder is dedicating $1 million to purchase lead filters for Flint residents"

What a great opportunity so show that private industry makes the best lead filters around, and that the market can fix this problem too.
posted by OmieWise at 10:23 AM on December 15, 2015 [10 favorites]


And I now see you mentioned the money from the state...
posted by Octaviuz at 10:23 AM on December 15, 2015


Why is there that much lead in the river water in the first place?

This is a good article if you want to learn more about the water chemistry challenges they face using water from the Flint River:
Experts say Flint's lead problems could have been held in check if the city had added phosphates to the water, as Detroit has done for years. The treatment doesn't eliminate lead entirely, but it does form a film over the pipes themselves, effectively sealing in the lead and reducing the amount in the water to acceptable levels.

But when Flint switched to river water, it didn't add phosphates. Instead it added lime to soften the water.
posted by peeedro at 10:31 AM on December 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


3. The change in water quality (eg, pH) leached lead out of lead pipes at higher rates than previously (possible)

This is what's going on. There has been lead in the pipes -- both city-owned pipes and home pipes -- forever. The new water may have higher plumbosolvency, so lead is leaching into the faucets at a higher rate. This is actually a constant struggle for water utilities -- they have to measure lead levels not just in their own pipes, but in a representative sample of houses in the area they serve. Wikipedia has a massive article on the problem in Washington DC.

Cheap lead test strips are available, and it might not be a bad idea to use one on your tap water once a year or so....
posted by miyabo at 10:37 AM on December 15, 2015 [11 favorites]


Sounds like they just need more competition in the bottled water industry. Maybe a tax-exemption could be made to any companies that want to sell water in Flint?
posted by blue_beetle at 10:46 AM on December 15, 2015


That whole "boil the water (to deal with lead)" thing is really the cherry on top of this utterly idiotic catastrophe, isn't it? Is it that the assholes are that ignorant, or are they just trying to placate people they think are that ignorant? Eugh!
posted by Matt Oneiros at 10:48 AM on December 15, 2015


This was news to me:

Nearly all homes built prior to the 1980s still have lead solder connecting copper pipes.

Some major U.S. cities still have 100 percent lead piping bringing water from the utilities to homes and businesses. The dissolved oxygen in the water combines with the metal at the surface (copper, zinc or lead) to form a metal oxide. This oxidation layer naturally develops through the decades to coat lead piping. When water conditions require it, water utilities also add lime or orthophosphates as a further barrier to prevent lead from getting into drinking water. When water chemistry is carefully controlled, it prevents dangerous levels of lead from entering the drinking water system from the pipes.

posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 10:53 AM on December 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


Matt Oneiros posted: That whole "boil the water (to deal with lead)" thing is really the cherry on top of this utterly idiotic catastrophe, isn't it? Is it that the assholes are that ignorant, or are they just trying to placate people they think are that ignorant? Eugh!

It won't be hard to prove that this isn't just negligence but "criminal negligence". The most lenient result is careers will be ruined and the City will pay out many millions of dollars. Realistically, some people should also be doing jail time.

Nearly all homes built prior to the 1980s still have lead solder connecting copper pipes.

The lead is on the outside of the joint and is there to provide a final pressure seal so there are no leaks. Its not like the lead is in constant contact with all of the water going through the pipe.
posted by JJ86 at 10:57 AM on December 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Those who could afford it opted for bottled water, buying it by the gallons.

Many thanks!
~ your friends at the Nestle environmental lobbying department
posted by Thorzdad at 10:57 AM on December 15, 2015 [9 favorites]


It's a huge mess. State and local officials keep pointing at each other and it seems like every time I read an article about it the story has a different mess-up. They applied the wrong federal guideline to assessing the water quality. They'd run the water for several minutes before taking a sample for testing. My favorite was how there's a 2011 report stating they needed to add phosphate, and officials and contractors on all levels kept making note of it without actually doing anything about it beyond "discussing" it, but not to the point where they can tell you why it was never added (ask that other guy over there! maybe be can tell you why). Meanwhile the MDEQ kept telling people to chill, the water is fine.

Basically, incompetence seems like a gross understatement. Criminally negligent would be closer.
posted by ghost phoneme at 11:03 AM on December 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Surely the city tested its supply in accordance with SDWA regulations. So, either:

Allegedly they did nothing of the sort. In addition to the class-action suit against Snyder etc., they're formally planning a SDWA suit alleging negligent/incompetent testing - the details on how they fucked up lead tests start on page 9 of that PDF.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:14 AM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


In SimCity2000, the top-of-the-line urban planning tool game I played obsessively in 1993, there was a scenario where you had to rescue a stagnating Flint, Michigan from the collapse of the automotive industry in the 1970's. It looked pretty daunting, at first--a whole bunch of abandoned factories and air/water pollution, hemorrhaging cash and people as a stalwart industry came crashing down, taking the entire regional economy with it. Turns out, though, it wasn't so awful tough to turn the whole operation around. You just had to play with tax rates (tax the everliving shit out of construction/automotive industries and anything you suspected was dumping heavy metals into the river, give clean energy and information technology tax breaks), do a little work to revitalize your downtown core by investing in infrastructure, and make sure your schools weren't underfunded. As long as you didn't succumb to political pressure to make up the budget deficit by letting your public works fall to pieces (by, say, messing with the power or water grids), people would weather the storm pretty well. You couldn't do all of this without borrowing money from the feds, of course, but interest rates were reasonable and you would more than recoup your money within a decade or two when your highly-educated knowledge economy came online and starting paying taxes on their middle class homes.

In 1993, I was nine years old, and figured this out in the span of maybe half an hour.
posted by Mayor West at 11:26 AM on December 15, 2015 [84 favorites]


posted by Mayor West

1) Well, obviously.

2) This just goes to show that SimCity needs to account for a mayor's desire to win the Republican nomination for President when offering things like federal loans.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:29 AM on December 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


Basically, incompetence seems like a gross understatement. Criminally negligent would be closer.

How many of the elected morons involved in this mess ran on a platform or smaller government and lower taxes?
posted by Thorzdad at 11:31 AM on December 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


The white people of Michigan are extraordinarily friendly and open with other white people, but/and they despise the Black residents of Michigan — and also any ground those Black residents live on. When I was apartment hunting in SE Michigan many years ago, I was struck by how quick white landlords and property managers were to tell me where they were and the best tactics for avoiding them, tactics that generally involved moving farther and farther north into Oakland county. "Twelve Mile is the new Eight Mile," is something I heard frequently, "but it's real nice up here." Southfield, especially, was a place to avoid, since even though to my outsider's eyes it looked like everything else in Oakland county (indifferently designed suburban housing, strip malls, office towers, all surrounded by oceans of parking) , it was a place where they lived. In this case, "they" meant the Black middle class, but fine class distinctions like that aren't relevant in SE Michigan.

I am not shocked at all that people in Michigan government would react to knowledge of lead poisoning from the water system in a majority-Black city with depraved indifference. This is because white people of Michigan on the whole don't think of places like Flint or Detroit as really being part of their state. Flint and Detroit are sacrifice zones, places where the Black population is quarantined; people from the decent white majority don't go to those areas or think too hard about what happens there, since even thinking hard about it can get it on you.

When I lived in Detroit, a new casino downtown had just opened — or maybe just a new garage next to the casino? — and ads for it were constantly on television. These ads featured a 3d rendering of the casino and the garage, showing that even though the casino was in Detroit, the garage was conveniently placed right next to the freeway offramp, meaning you didn't have to spend any time on surface streets. Near the end of the ad, the virtual camera zoomed in to highlight the sealed skybridge between the garage and the casino itself — indicating to the decent people of Michigan that although the casino was in Detroit, you could get to the garage without spending any time on surface streets and then also you could then get to the casino without ever really even setting foot in Detroit. How grand!

One interesting side effect of the tendency among white Michigan culture to think of both Black people and the land they walk on as being cursed is that over time this belief results in the land actually becoming cursed — officials who think that thinking about Black-occupied land is a waste of their time approve cheap substandard infrastructure that poisons the residents, making their lives much worse, reinforcing the idea that the people and land are cursed. Lather, rinse, repeat.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:33 AM on December 15, 2015 [88 favorites]


Welcome to Rick Snyder's Wonderland... cut all necessary services and pass the savings along to big business.

I don't think you can place the blame on Snyder here. Blaming Snyder is so easy and lets everyone else off the hook.

The acute problems now are mostly the result of massive incompetence up and down the regulatory, local gov't and water treatment side of things. The chronic underlying condition is that "necessary services" in Michigan's big cities have seen massive disinvestment under both republican and democratic leadership since the 1960's because the people drinking the water in question are black.

The politics in the suburbs of Detroit and the townships around Flint have been driven by toxic racism and anti-urban sentiments for decades and nobody has done shit. I "liked" Granholm as a person and voted for her happily, but in retrospect, what did she do for Flint or Detroit except help maintain the pathetic status quo? What did Engler do? Blanchard?

Anyway, kudos to Snyder for sticking his neck out to try to deal with some urban issues head on for once, and shame on this state for leaving it to a goddamn republican.
posted by woof at 11:36 AM on December 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'd like to think any politician would have had to act once it got out that there was a city in their jurisdiction where the drinking water had more lead than fluoride. I could be wrong about that....I hope not.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:40 AM on December 15, 2015


Jesus Christ. I just...

I feel like we've reached a point where we can't vote for candidates with adequate knowledge of the impact of our vote. I mean, I can sit here, robed in my considerable privilege, and happily vote democrat forever thinking that this is how I best serve not only my own interests but the interests of the general people and then rant online about that.

But these people have a government that is literally poisoning their children and I mean... how could they have known that this would be the disaster? How much time is a poor community supposed to spend researching every motherfucking thing a shitty candidate can do to ruin their children? How much time can someone spend learning how to safeguard their own interests with their vote if that's even possible?

I'm just floored. I don't know how a population can learn enough to protect themselves against a government whose malfeasance will touch every sphere of human understanding.
posted by shmegegge at 11:45 AM on December 15, 2015 [13 favorites]


2) This just goes to show that SimCity needs to account for a mayor's desire to win the Republican nomination for President when offering things like federal loans.

BRB, off to create a SC2K mod that replaces the 80-foot-tall space monster that shoots lasers out of its eyes and demolishes office buildings with a sprite of Rick Snyder.
posted by Mayor West at 11:46 AM on December 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


The causes for the lead seem clear from one of the articles:

"For decades, the City of Flint bought its water from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, water that arrived "finished" — in other words, treated to make it safe for human consumption."

and

"When Flint started pumping river water, the local plant either never employed corrosion control, or didn't employ sufficient control."

JJ86, the lead solder that connects copper pipes and fittings in homes built prior to the 1980's is most certainly in constant contact with the water. There is a thin line of solder on the interior of the joint between the copper pipe and the fitting. That's why lead-free solder is mandated these days for potable water.

Additionally, lead pipe was in common use by water utilities as late as the 1940s, so the lead might not even be from the homeowner's own pipes.
posted by the Real Dan at 11:50 AM on December 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


BRB, off to create a SC2K mod that replaces the 80-foot-tall space monster that shoots lasers out of its eyes and demolishes office buildings with a sprite of Rick Snyder.

Too much effort for Snyder. He's just the guy standing behind the space monster saying "We need to lower business taxes to rebuild."
posted by Etrigan at 11:53 AM on December 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


The causes for the high lead levels are clear and direct -- the effort now is to show how the system that's ostensibly supposed to prevent these things from happening, or catch and fix them when they do, failed for twenty goddamned months.

(I've had to write about this crisis dispassionately for my job since October and I very much appreciate this thread giving me the opportunity to get mad about it.)
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:57 AM on December 15, 2015 [19 favorites]


Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hatred. Hatred leads to shitty half-assed infrastructure work done on the cheap. Shitty half-assed infrastructure work done on the cheap leads to suffering.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:59 AM on December 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


Now, between the west-side Lansing neighborhood we used to live in, and the cluster of strip malls, movie theaters, restaurants, and shopping mall a mile, mile and a half west of the neighborhood, the main thoroughfare goes through nearly a mile where there is nothing but old parking lots and rail lines, and whatever debris is left from the factories being torn down

w saginaw ave is pretty bad, but s cedar to me is even more shocking - lots of closed up businesses, and a general atmosphere of decay until you get out a bit

it was so different in the late 60s - my grandparents lived a block off of e michigan ave a bit past resurrection church and high school, and that hasn't changed too much - but the decline of some of the other sections of town is clear

and what i remember of detroit and flint the few times i was there as a kid compared to now - it's just appalling
posted by pyramid termite at 12:39 PM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Didn't this entire deal go down while both Flint and Detroit were under the control of unelected state-appointed emergency managers rather than actual democratically elected officials?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:26 PM on December 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Didn't this entire deal go down while both Flint and Detroit were under the control of unelected state-appointed emergency managers rather than actual democratically elected officials?

The former Flint emergency manager (currently the Detroit Public Schools EM) says the deal was made before he got there.
posted by Etrigan at 1:38 PM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's easy to point fingers at this that and the other actions in the past 5-10 years that have lead to this. But, without cash, and lots of it, to maintain infrastructure , something's got to give. The whole point of having state and federal governments is so that local towns and cities aren't on it on their own.
posted by rebent at 1:40 PM on December 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Pumping neurotoxic chemicals into the water supply of majority-black communities is to white supremacy what building fake islands is to Chinese eminent domain over the South China Sea: nothing less than manufacturing facts on the ground.

It is well documented that lead levels in the water/air were correlated with high crime rates during the 20th century. And equally so that there are white supremacists who make a goal of ensuring that every black man is processed through the criminal justice system. This could be seen as scaling the process up.
posted by acb at 1:51 PM on December 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


Particularly horrific when you think about Freddie Gray , who, according to many, had mental impairment by lead poisoning that might have played a role in his struggles in school and his involvement in the drug trade.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:25 PM on December 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


My dad was born in Flint. My older brother too, I believe. I am a Michigander by birth myself, high school and college in the state, lots of family in SW MI and in the Lansing area. But... I am really happy that I moved the hell out of Michigan. The state was a nice place to live when I was in high school, started to slide when I was in college, and now it is becoming a total pit. The unwillingness to address the deep social issues that rotted Detroit and Flint are spreading further, ripples in a pond. I can't say that Snyder is to blame for all the social ills, but the conservative movement that was behind his election has been pushing Michigan into the shitter for a long time now. This is the kind of governance that we get when the current crop of "fuck you, I got mine" conservatives are allowed to drive policy. You couple that with an economy built on industry and it is a recipe for failure. The conservative push has been to export industry, keeping the corporate profits at home but the blue collar jobs overseas. This just makes me sick. All those poor kids, and their poor parents, poor in so many senses of the word...
posted by caution live frogs at 2:39 PM on December 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Particularly horrific when you think about Freddie Gray , who, according to many, had mental impairment by lead poisoning that might have played a role in his struggles in school and his involvement in the drug trade.

As I mentioned in another recent thread - low SES increases your odds of a high blood lead level substantially (as one might expect) but not quite as much as being black!

Hmm what do you know (I hadn't actually seen this paper before but it's a hypothesis I've had for a while).
posted by atoxyl at 4:28 PM on December 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Not to suggest that I'm the first one to think of it.

And yeah, there have been a whole bunch of different articles about how this is relevant to Freddy Gray, who was documented to have had very high lead levels as an infant, was in special ed classes for years, and received a settlement from a suit against the property owner over the exposure. Was the one truly heartbreaking piece about how recipients of such lead settlements in Baltimore are routinely scammed out of their long-term payments (in exchange for a much smaller immediate sum) already on MeFi or did I see it somewhere else?
posted by atoxyl at 4:42 PM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


>Welcome to Rick Snyder's Wonderland... cut all necessary services and pass the savings along to big business.

Governance fails like this keep mounting up at muni, state and fed levels.
By now its such a very long list.
But who can you appeal to when its the top rung that's rotten?
posted by Fupped Duck at 5:06 PM on December 15, 2015


Behold democracy, in it's modern state.

The fact that the people that have made this terrible want governance to seem impossible and the people that want to fix it can't win elections means we can't have nice things.

And so it goes.
posted by dglynn at 8:08 PM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


JJ86: outThe lead is on the outside of the joint and is there to provide a final pressure seal so there are no leaks. Its not like the lead is in constant contact with all of the water going through the pipe.

Incorrect. In soldered copper pipes, the solder fills the entire joint and does make contact with the water that flows through the pipes. The surface area of contact with the water is small, but it's not zero.
posted by jon1270 at 8:16 PM on December 15, 2015


On further reading, someone beat me to that comment hours ago.
posted by jon1270 at 8:19 PM on December 15, 2015


Shit, I didn't know the extent of this.

I was helping a friend move, and her sister just turned down a job at U-M's Flint campus because of the lead in the water. She's exactly the kind of person you'd want to move to a city — young, smart, looking for a place to put down roots. But when another friend talked about a regatta in Flint, lead was the immediate thing she started talking about. She's from Texas; a bunch of us helping pack were from Michigan, and the general consensus was, "Totally right call." Detroit, even Saginaw, but Flint's too fucked to move to without drastic changes in infrastructure.

Seeing the extent of this story was kinda shocking, but not surprising, if that makes sense. And this sort of shit has been going on for a long time.

Back in around 2005, 2006, I was working on a story for Hour Detroit about wetland mitigation. Quick explanation: In Michigan, if you're building on wetlands, you have to either preserve the wetlands or create an equal amount of wetlands someplace else. My editor's hunch was that it wasn't happening. So, I call the DEQ and get a lot of palaver from the coms person about how everything's working great, but she can't actually answer most of my questions. I go round and round with her, restating the questions, getting dissembled, asking to speak to experts, and finally I have to say, "Well, since my deadline is coming up, and I've asked you direct questions that you aren't able to answer and you haven't put me in contact with anyone who can, I'm going to be forced to print, 'DEQ was asked about X, Y and Z, and refused to comment on those questions." Finally, she sets me up with a guy whose job includes reviewing plans for wetland mitigation. I start asking him about whether we can go to see any spots that are nominally reclaimed wetlands, and while he can't make it because he's someplace else (maybe the U.P. or something, on business, but I forget where), he gives me the addresses. He's nominally in charge of compliance too, so I ask him if he's ever been to any of these places. Nope. Not a one. Well, how do you know they completed the work? The extent of compliance was reviewing the forms the companies filed. Wait, what?

Then we get into even more backstory: Back in 1995, the Republican governor, John Engler, separated the Department of Environmental Quality from the Department of Natural Resources. The reason? The DNR wasn't responsive to businesses and had a lot of public hearings on things. The other advantage of splitting the departments? Engler got to remove a ton of restraints on business. Here's the description from a 2010 story (about Granholm's efforts to combine them):
Engler split the agency to get accountability from the environmental protection side. He favored less environmental protection and more expedient permit issuance to business and industry. Those were permits to pollute air and water and fill wetlands.

Engler also abolished the environmental commissions, the air and water pollution commissions, the Toxic Substance Control Commission and the Wilderness and Natural Areas board, among others.

Environmentalists were very unhappy. Splitting the agency weakened environmental enforcement and the commissions were open, public forums. Public access to environmental decision making was reduced dramatically.
In 2005 or so, the DEQ still hadn't recovered. Granholm was in, but not only was she trying to be a Clintonian third-way Democrat, Michigan's economy (perpetually hobbled by Prop. A) and Republican legislature meant that there was no ability to restore funds. No one checked compliance because they couldn't afford to check compliance.

So I drove around to a handful of the sites, and most were parking lots that drained into culverts, with the entire area claimed as wetland acreage. DEQ was like, well, you know, in order to fine them — which amounted to a couple grand tops, much less than actually doing wetland mitigation — they'd have to actually go to the sites with an outside expert who could determine that the site wasn't actually mitigation, then take the company to civil court, and in general, construction projects incorporated per project, so there might not even be anything beyond the parking lot to seize. At any rate, the process was going to take years for each permit, and since there were hundreds of permits approved per year, well, they'd look into it and they'd love to have the budget to actually do something about it.

Like I mentioned upthread, Granholm combined the DNR and DEQ in 2010, which the legislature attempted to overturn but couldn't get the two-thirds necessary. But because it was the beginning of the Great Recession for everyone else (Michigan had been there for years), the move was in part designed to cut budgets further. I never followed up on the story, but I can't imagine that they suddenly found the money to actually do compliance inspections on the wetland mitigation when there were deep layoffs.

Bringing this all back up to the current situation: One of the first things that the "cool nerd" did when he took office was divide the DNR and DEQ again, and double down on the notion that the primary role of the DEQ is to write permits so businesses can do whatever the fuck they want. So responding to massively unsafe lead in the water with, "Apparently this is a thing now," is entirely consistent with venal spokespeople and over 20 years of intentional gutting of Michigan's ability to protect its environment and its citizens. This is not an accident. This is by design, and this is what the voters of Michigan have repeatedly endorsed. I keep hoping that they'll turn it around, but it's the electoral version of "Nuh uh nuh uh nuh uh." These outcomes are predictable; they've been repeatedly predicted, but most of Michigan voters just do not give a fuck — they don't see how it affects them, they cling to just world bullshit, and they just keep making the same mistakes while people suffer.

I really doubt anyone will be held to account for this. The problems are too diffuse, too vague, and too forgettable — no one is going to think about these structural problems the next time Michigan's elections roll around. Well, no one but Flint residents, but between emergency managers and general contempt, nobody seems to give a fuck what they think.
posted by klangklangston at 9:06 PM on December 15, 2015 [25 favorites]


Mayor West: In 1993, I was nine years old, and figured this out in the span of maybe half an hour.

And in fact, the town I used to live in—Duluth, Minnesota—went through pretty much exactly this situation and this response (catalyzed enormously by citizen activists turning the federal I-35 freeway construction into also a waterfront-revitalizing project) was highly successful. So this isn't just a Sim City idea, it's proven in reality. (This article summarizes the history of that transition.)
posted by traveler_ at 9:08 PM on December 15, 2015


Up until a month ago, I lived by Hurley Hospital, next to it in fact.
The life flights and ambulances become commonplace coupled with the police helicopters, it was like a green zone with the stadium at the end of the street. The hearse entrance was on my street. And peoples faces in cars when they leave, the mix of relief and pain.

I watched three fires this summer from my yard. It is ironic that the historic Whaley house was almost lost 2 weeks ago, a house my sister was married in and I used to walk by everyday to university. Ironically, the "birth certificate" of General Motors was saved.
Seems solder/ repair work on the roof gutters caused it.
Lead.
Glad you posted this and we are getting that good Huron water via Detriot again.
There is plenty of blame and the main cheerleader for the conversion lost his election. The info presented is pretty good.
I'm going to refrain from further comment as I see a lot of these folks buying coffee and driving and what not.
Good for mayor Weaver, she got my vote.
posted by clavdivs at 10:08 PM on December 15, 2015 [3 favorites]




Was the one truly heartbreaking piece about how recipients of such lead settlements in Baltimore are routinely scammed out of their long-term payments (in exchange for a much smaller immediate sum) already on MeFi or did I see it somewhere else?

I don't remember if I've seen it before either, but here it is.

It's worth a read. But Jesus is it depressing as hell.
posted by emptythought at 7:57 PM on December 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


My mother is from Flint, and she has a good amount of family living in the area. I was born and raised across the state in Kalamazoo, which had its own problems, but man, nothing like this. I remember going on trips to Flint to visit family, and at one point, we even went to the Six Flags Autoworld theme park, a sort of paid advertisement for how awesome the auto industry was, disguised as edu-tainment. Of course, it wasn't open for long, as I recall, and even though I was young, I could tell things we bad and getting worse,

After my grandmother died, my mom begged my aunt to sell the family house, but my aunt refused. At the time, in the mid-eighties, it turns out they could have gotten nearly $80,000 for it, being that it was a pretty nice house in a moderately well off neighborhood. A couple years later, as the city was in full collapse, the neighborhood had fallen apart, and the value of the house was roughly $10,000.

The abandonment of Flint should have been a national wake-up call. It should have been a moment where we as a society realized that business wasn't going to provide the safety net, that business isn't interested in being a part of a healthy and growing community, and that a viable, healthy community is something we would have to build, to insist on, to strive towards. Instead, the only lesson we seem to have learned is how to look away and awkwardly shuffle our feet until someone changes the topic to something less embarrassing. People smugly post articles on Facebook about how bad air quality is in Beijing to feel superior, but goddamn, what about Flint? Michael Moore might not be a perfect messenger, but holy shit, what part of Roger & Me did people not understand?!
posted by Ghidorah at 4:04 AM on December 17, 2015 [8 favorites]


I'm so sad about this, not just because Michael Moore's documentary on Flint was formative for my social attitudes, but also having read recently about links between lead exposure and long-term patterns of violence affecting mostly disadvantaged populations. I first heard about the link from this MeFi post, but this more recent Chigago Tribune article is also a good read.
posted by maniabug at 7:27 AM on December 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


I caught part of the Michigan Radio piece on the way home Wednesday. I didn't realize that part of the reason one of the analysis came back within allowable limits was because state officials told the city to throw out the two samples with the highest levels of lead. This changed the results from over the allowable limit to just under.

The best part? The samples were were "invalidated for a technical reason." In one case it was because the homeowner, trying to protect her kids, was using a filter.

When questioned about this in the Michigan Radio piece, and how it must look bad, an official responded that they "...were following the requirements of the regulations basically in doing that."

The official reason is that a filter can give you an artificially low reading, so the lab just automatically threw out any samples that didn't follow protocol. Fair enough, except they weren't following the guidelines when they decided where to take samples in the first place The city didn't test worst-case scenario homes. So sometimes they follow the rules, and sometimes they don't.

And more to the point, when the original draft of the report says that there's a problem, and the second says there isn't, wouldn't that be a red flag to investigate further? Double check what changed between drafts, maybe? Especially since you've had a lot of complaints about the water already.

State and city officials had red flags waved repeatedly in their faces before and after they made the switch. Some flags they ignored, and some flags they actively tried to hide from public eye. All while gas lighting the people who were trying to get this fixed. I hope Mayor West can be a strong advocate for the people of Flint, since pretty much everyone else seemed to go out of their way to screw them over.
posted by ghost phoneme at 1:35 PM on December 17, 2015 [7 favorites]


Mayor Weaver! Ugh, that's what I get for commenting while finishing up at work.
posted by ghost phoneme at 5:48 PM on December 17, 2015


I'm visiting family for Christmas, just outside of Flint, and in the 5 hours or so of WDIV TV news I've watched, I've seen one mention of the water crisis, and that was the anchor plugging an upcoming interview with Mayor Weaver. Maybe they were beating the drum on it before (I'm not here all that much) but it saddens me that they seem to be willing to let the story drop until there's some new development.
posted by frimble at 6:37 AM on December 20, 2015




Gov declares state of emergency for county.

Cher goes mad on Twitter.
posted by clavdivs at 2:20 PM on January 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


“Water donations run dry in Flint, no action from Governor Snyder”The Rachel Maddow Show, 07 January 2016
Stephainie Gosk, NBC News correspondent, talks with Rachel Maddow about how the people of Flint have been relying on scarce water donations to replace their toxic water supply as Governor Rick Snyder has increased the amount he's talking about the crisis without taking any actual short-term action for the people of Flint who are without options.

N.B. If you're interested in this story, I promise you that this video is both worth 12 minutes of your time and will make you even angrier than you already are.
posted by ob1quixote at 8:36 PM on January 7, 2016


I don't see Maddow donating water. And her journalism is less then accurate. For example, "She applauds MLive and other Michigan media outlets for their work on the issue..."

I guess she does.

"...and interviews Mickle about The Flint Journal's coverage."

"We need an independent party to come in here and take a look at everything and tell us what exactly transpired -- how did this happen -- and I don't think that the people of Flint have faith that they're going to get that from their state government."

What a scoop, God I could have ridden my bike over with a podcast with some extra shots of Hurley Hospital draining the water from its system the day the lead report was issued.
I wonder what that meant?

Bryn is toeing the line but dude, did you read this...then?(did fucking anyone?) PDF
posted by clavdivs at 11:09 PM on January 7, 2016




homunculus! I was wondering where you'd gotten off to! Good job rounding up update links as always!
posted by JHarris at 8:14 PM on January 8, 2016


How elected but powerless city officials voted for switching to the river water 7-1 with approval of the mayor. I encourage folks to read this PDF as it says a lot.

MARC EDWARDS: "Well, this problem should have been stopped, even if there was complete incompetence on the part of the state, with the Del Toral memo. But as Curt mentioned, EPA covered it up. They apologized for this memo that was written. It perfectly explained what was going on, including the fact that Flint was breaking federal law. And EPA administrator Hedman at Region 5 said she was sorry about the memo and that she would vet and edit it, and Mr. Del Toral would not be working on this anymore."

Arrest Obama?
posted by clavdivs at 4:02 PM on January 12, 2016




Spike in Legionnaire's Disease around Flint -- 87 cases, 10 deaths. No one seems to know whether there's a connection to the water.
posted by Etrigan at 12:30 PM on January 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


homunculus! I was wondering where you'd gotten off to! Good job rounding up update links as always!

Thanks! Glad to be of service!
posted by homunculus at 2:06 PM on January 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


National Guard called into assist.

That's a real issue in Flint is the water bill, before the water crisis and during. I know a lot of folks who just stopped paying.

Odd, There’s no federal policy to help people deal with the cost of water.
posted by clavdivs at 4:26 PM on January 13, 2016




Odd, There’s no federal policy to help people deal with the cost of water.

There sort of is, but it's limited to relaxing the requirements for utilities if an otherwise-mandatory upgrade would cause a rate hike so big that their customers wouldn't be able to afford the bills anymore. A situation like what Flint has faced isn't in the Safe Drinking Water Act playbook.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 6:04 AM on January 15, 2016


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