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Toxic Water Crisis in Flint—Could This Happen in Your City?

The Flint water crisis began 2 years ago, in April 2014, when the state of Michigan took over city management and decided to switch Flint's water supply from treated Detroit Water and Sewerage Department water to water from the Flint River — a notoriously polluted waterway.

As noted by long-time Flint resident Rhonda Kelso:1 "We thought it was a joke. People my age and older thought 'They're not going to do that.'" But, it wasn't a joke.

This cost-cutting strategy was implemented to save $5 million — a temporary measure while a new pipeline was being built for the newly created Karegnondi Water Authority, which would supply water to the mid-Michigan area, including Flint.

Undemocratic Cost-Saving Measure Puts Residents at Grave Risk

Alas, problems became apparent almost immediately following the switch. Residents noticed their tap water had turned a dirty brown, and it had an odd smell and taste.

A year later, Flint resident Lee-Anne Walters finally turned to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for help after she and other concerned residents kept getting the runaround from local officials.

As reported by CNN,2 Walters has two young twin boys, both of whom had developed strange rashes, and when one of her children was diagnosed with lead poisoning, Walters became determined to get answers.

Other people also suffered mysterious illnesses, including hair loss, nervous system disorders, and cancer. Many of them were children. However, the EPA turned out to be just as unhelpful.

The featured documentary, "Here's to Flint," created by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, reveals how this entirely preventable tragedy was allowed to occur, and how the residents of Flint — who refused to believe the lies fed to them by state and local officials — finally won.

10 Flint Residents Killed by Legionella Bacteria in One Year

In August 2015, Virginia Tech scientists discovered Flint's tap water was contaminated with, in some cases, astronomically high levels of lead; a well-recognized neurotoxin associated with reduced IQ, behavioral problems, and hearing loss — and that's in miniscule amounts.

Exposure to larger amounts (that are still small, relatively speaking) can cause coma, convulsions and death.

They also found a number of other toxins, including high levels of trihalomethanes3 — carcinogenic byproducts from water treatment — and dangerous bacteria such as E.coli and Legionella, the latter of which is suspected of causing an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease.

Between 2014 and 2015, 87 people in Genesee County contracted Legionnaires'; 10 of them died. It's considered one of the worst outbreaks of Legionnaires' in U.S. history.4

According to Genesee County Health director Jim Henry, state officials blocked the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from investigating the outbreak.

Henry suspected Flint River water right from the start, but CDC protocols require an invitation from state officials. County officials requested help from the CDC, but they never showed up because state officials never issued the prerequisite invitation.

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