Almost three years after it began, the Flint, MI water crisis has left many residents still relying on bottled water, with experts stating that the ramifications are likely to continue for years to come.
The water crisis began in 2012, when Flint decided to switch the city’s water source and failed to treat that water with an anti-corrosive agent, allowing it to corrode the pipes and lead to dissolve into the water. Even while the city works to replace the damaged lines, the water continues to remain unsuitable for drinking.
Last week, a federal judge ordered Flint administrators to decide on a long-term water source, Michigan Radio’s Steve Carmody reported. Court hearings for state officials facing criminal charges for their role in the crisis and cover-up are scheduled to resume in November.
Exposure to lead-tainted water has been proven to cause long-term health impacts. Flint pediatrician Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, who helped expose the water crisis, tells Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson that the health effects of lead exposure are not immediately seen.
Studies have proven that exposure to lead lowers IQ levels and creates cognitive and behavioral issues for children. “It’s known as a silent pediatric epidemic. It’s something that we see years if not decades after exposure to lead. There is no cure. There is no antidote,” she says. “However, there is so much that we can do and that we are doing to minimize, to mitigate, to buffer the impact of the exposure. We cannot take it away, but we can do so much to lessen it.”
When they discovered the water was tainted, Hanna-Attisha and her fellow researchers struggled to convince state officials, who long-denied the water was contaminated. They revealed their findings at a press conference in September 2015.
“We were hearing reports of lead in the water by the Virginia Tech group and when we, as pediatricians, hear about lead anywhere we need to act,” Hanna-Attisha told Here & Now’s Robin Young last year. “You don’t release research at press conferences, but we had an ethical, moral obligation to inform the community that the water has lead and it looks like it’s getting into the bodies of children.”
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver says the city is stuck in “limbo” without a long-term water contract. According to Michigan Radio, her efforts to sign a 30-year contract with the Great Lakes Water Authority have been blocked by the city council over cost concerns. GLWA has been providing water to Flint on a month-to-month basis, but the lack of a long-term agreement is draining the city financially.
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, water infrastructure in the nation as a whole is in horrible shape, water quality engineer Marc Edwards told Hobson last year.
“I think the best grade the drinking water pipes system has gotten in the last six years is a D-minus,” Edwards says. “So because it’s out of sight, out of mind, no one pays attention to it until a pipe breaks or it hurts us somehow and that’s certainly what’s happened in Flint.”
Flint’s refusal to treat the water with an anti-corrosive reflects how the U.S. has been slow to protect drinking water, Hanna-Attisha says. Congress did not prohibit the use of lead pipes that provided water for human consumption until 1986. And it wasn’t until 2014 that the government restricted lead from brass plumbing fixtures.
“We were stubbornly, stubbornly slow as a nation to restrict lead from our plumbing, even though we’ve known about the evil of lead for really centuries,” Hanna-Attisha says. “The EPA had an opportunity to strengthen that rule, and they said, ‘Hey, we’re going to pass on this. We’re not going to strengthen this, we’re not going to learn from Flint, and we’re going to let countless other children be exposed to a neurotoxin.”