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Flint Crisis: Cost-cutting, poisoned water, and government adequacy

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Illustration of the government.
Illustration by: Karina Herrera | Staff Illustrator

The current Flint, Michigan crisis illustrates the dangers of deregulation and an apathetic government body out of touch with its constituents to the point of environmental mistrust and irrevocable damage.

In an April 2014 attempt to cut cost, a state-appointed city manager of Flint authorized changing the water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River. This may seem an innocuous behavior, but the city’s water supply was polluted after purposeful failure to treat the water with an anti-corrosive chemical agent.

If the government had taken the time to do their due diligence and apply corrosion protection chemicals, 90 percent of the current problems would be solved. Unfortunately, money was their number one priority—not the residents.

The corrosive water damaged the city’s pipes to the point of releasing lead and other pollutants into the water supply and, by proxy, into the mouths and on the bodies of approximately 100,000 residents.

Individuals such as the top state environment official have already resigned from their positions in disgrace. The next to vacate his post should be the Michigan governor, Rick Snyder. There is no bigger failing as an official than poisoning 100,000 residents, including pregnant women and children.

The governor’s attempt to allocate resources for corporations and the wealthy resulted in the pollution of the underclass: the epitome of deregulation and plutocratic posturing gone awry. Government officials failed to properly regulate the water supply in efforts to save the $100 a day it would cost to purify it.

Earlier this month President Obama officially announced a state of emergency for Flint, sending in the National Guard to hand out water bottles to the 50,000 households in the Detroit suburb.

Due to the state of emergency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is required to appropriate the funds to help the city in this crisis. Unfortunately, FEMA can only allot a maximum of $5 million as the disaster is man-made, furthering a sense of hopelessness for residents and illustrating how damning the trust they placed in their officials was.

In this predominantly black, disproportionately poor town, this is nothing short of racialized environmental terrorism. As Snyder stated, this is his Hurricane Katrina.

When racism and classism intersect, the result is often one of catastrophic proportions. Historically, when natural and environmental problems arise in majority-minority communities, officials ignore them.

The UN recognizes access to clean water as a fundamental human right. The government of Michigan, in a roundabout way, sought to curb residents’ access to this fundamental right. As a result, those individuals’ human rights have been violated.

This is the other side of deregulation. While the government is attempting to save money, people are left drinking lead-filled waters and suffering with the negative consequence of a poisoned water supply.

The effects of lead poisoning take years to manifest, so the real horrors of the Flint crisis are yet to be determined. What is clear is that residents are at an increased risk of permanent brain damage, negative reproductive effects, destruction of nerve cells and brain tissue, and potential increase in criminal behavior.

Attempts to defund integral aspects of society will lead to the lower life outcomes of an entire generation of children in the throes of Michigan’s already deteriorating infrastructure.

When there are no checks in place of managerial action, also known as deregulation, you get officials isolated from the goings-on of a community making self-regarding decisions for the lives of the people they purport to represent.

There is an immediate need for a series of excessive redresses for the victims of the incompetent Michigan government. Apologies, pleasantries and echoes of “oops” only go so far. The people of Flint have been internally and externally devastated. Accountability, care and redress—there’s nothing more to add. Flint residents need help, and they need it fast.