Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Costs of Flint

It began as a cost-cutting move.

In April 2013, the city of Flint Michigan under the control of a state-created Emergency Manager approves a plan to cut off the water they're getting from Detroit and switch over to a new water authority that would supply from Lake Huron. This is supposed to save the small poor city millions on its budget.

Problems immediately rise up. The Lake Huron authority won't be able to pump water in for three years, while Detroit is now set to cut off water within a year due to their contract's ending.

So a new Emergency Manager comes in, and somewhere during the transition the decision is made to pump water in from the nearby Flint River.

There's a problem with that. Flint River is toxic. There's no filtration system set up for it.

The city government still follows through on the switch in April 2014. The mayor and council all say "oh, the water is safe to use."

By May 2014 the citizenry are pointing to the discolored, foamy, toxic water coming out of their faucets as something wrong.

The state-level agency Departement of Environmental Quality tests the water and claims it meets "state standards."

By August 2014 there's a boiling alert because E.coli bacteria shows up.

In October 2014, the nearby General Motors factory refuses to use the city water at its facility because it is rusting out car parts. A major industrial company is sending up red flags that there is something wrong with the water and all the local government does is allow the GM plant to tap another water source while forcing their own citizens to keep using the bad water.

By January 2015, the city admits there is a toxic disinfectant byproduct in the drinking water but keeps claiming "it's safe"... as long as you have a healthy immune system.

Quoting the NBC News timeline directly:

Jan. 13 2015: Protesters rally outside City Hall to demand a return to Detroit's supply and lower bills. Hundreds turn out at a forum, some complaining of rashes on children. Detroit offered to let Flint switch back, but the city's Emergency Manager says it would cost too much.

The news keeps getting worse.

By February 2015, a consultant hired by the city claims the water is safe but a federal EPA manager warns the city that there's a possibility the water's contaminants are corroding the pipes and leaching lead - a very toxic element - into the drinking water.

It's April, and the city has to admit - again - that it's flunked the Safe Drinking Water Act - but that hey the water's still safe to use.

By June, the lower-level workers at the EPA are firing off warning messages to their bosses about Flint, but nobody seems to act on it. Activists for the population file a lawsuit to force city government to stop using the Flint River as a water source, but officials move the suit to the federal level as a delaying tactic.

There's now open bureaucratic resistance to what everybody in the real world is seeing coming out of the faucets in Flint.

By July, an employee with the state health department finds a three-month spike in the levels of lead contamination in Flint's waters and sends a memo to her bosses to look into it. The higher-ups decide it's just a seasonal anomaly.

The then-Chief of Staff for Governor Snyder's office emails that health department that the whole state government seems to be "blowing off" the concerns of Flint's citizenry:

"I'm frustrated by the water issue in Flint," Dennis Muchmore, then chief of staff to Gov. Rick Snyder, wrote in the email to a top health department staffer obtained by NBC News.
"I really don't think people are getting the benefit of the doubt. Now they are concerned and rightfully so about the lead level studies they are receiving," Muchmore said.
"These folks are scared and worried about the health impacts and they are basically getting blown off by us (as a state we're just not sympathizing with their plight)."

Back to the timeline. By August and September, outside testers are confirming high levels of lead in the water, and worse that the lead is showing up in high concentrations in children (lead poisoning in children is a horrifying situation).

In October, the governor agrees to set up water filtration systems for the city and to start testing kids in schools for lead poisoning. He agrees to fund $6 million get the city tapped back into Detroit's water supply.

But by now it's too late. The water in Flint is still toxic because the piping system has been corroded and nothing will get the lead out of that system.

By January 2016, a state of emergency has to be declared, and bottled water shipped in. Costs go up, even as thousands of people across the country contribute to relief efforts. The federal Department of Justice opens an investigation as does the state's Attorney General. There's evidence that the toxic water contributed to an outbreak of and deaths caused by Legionnaires Disease.

As of right now, the costs of replacing and repairing Flint's water supply system could reach as much as $1.5 BILLION.

Remember what I said at the beginning? This all happened because a state-appointed Emergency Manager wanted to save millions off the city's budget. Now the financial bill is going to be in the BILLIONS. Add to that the legal costs from lawsuits and appeals.

The medical costs are going to be even more so.

The costs in wasted lives, incalculable.

All because there was a political party in charge of the state obsessed with deregulating things, obsessed with cutting expenses, obsessed with kow-towing to their Club for Greed masters who want government shrunk to the size where they can drown it in Grover's bathtub.

All because Michigan's governor Snyder pushed an Emergency Manager program on the state that took power and accountability away from city and local governments and gave control to his lackeys who would be more obsessed fulfilling HIS political agenda over serving the needs of those communities.

And now you see the results of massive deregulation and blind obsession with cost-cutting. Now you see the results. Entire communities dying from poison and despair.

And Michigan's not the only place finding this out. Kansas, Florida, Wisconsin, all of them starting to fall apart after years if not decades of Republican mismanagement.

Here are the costs of Flint, America. Are you sure you want the Republicans to send you this bill?

Update: The interoffice emails of the Governor's office is revealing how the powers-that-be were more worried about the "political fallout" than the fact people were getting sick and dying because of the toxic water. If there were any genuine sense of shame or human decency in any of those state officials from Snyder on down through the departments that stonewalled and covered up, they'd all be resigning. But they won't. We're better off arresting them now.

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