Water, Sewage & Effluent May June 2019 - Page 14

Journalist Anna Clark’s book on the Flint water crisis published by Metropolitan Books. Free bottled water made available to Flint residents after a court order. This cartoon by cartoonist Nate Beeler, published by the Bay Area News Group, appeared in the East Bay Times on 26 January 2016. It illustrates the poisons in a glass of Flint water. 12 Water Sewage & Effluent May/June 2019 administrator in conjunction with the State Treasurer decided to revert water supplies from the Detroit Water Company to a local pumping and treatment scheme from the Flint River as this option would be cheaper. There was a major flaw in this decision: the water from the Flint River is heavily polluted with industrial waste. Recent studies (Clark 2018) now indicate that water treatment as well as the monitoring systems were totally inadequate to treat the raw Flint water. In April 2014, when water supply reverted to the Flint River, Flint’s utilities administrator, Michael Glasgow, expressed concern. He emailed three people at the Michigan department of environmental quality (MDEQ) with a warning, “I have people above me making plans [to distribute the water as soon as possible]. I do not anticipate giving the okay to begin sending water out anytime soon. If water is distributed from this plant in the next couple of weeks, it will be against my direction. I need time to adequately train additional staff and to update our monitoring plans before I will feel we are ready. I will reiterate this to management above me, but they seem to have their own agenda.” Notwithstanding this, water supply was reverted, marked by a toast as local leaders raised their water glasses at the treatment plant. A few months later, the supply- switch problems started to surface. Although the US Congress banned the use of lead water pipes 30 years prior to this switch, the regulation only applies to new water pipes. Many older lead pipes remain in use – including in Flint. The result was disastrous: corrosive water caused led contamination to filter into households. People became ill, housewives complained about water quality and local doctors found indicators that the lead content in children’s blood doubled within a year. Complaints reached the council and state officials. The federal regulator, the well-known Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), was approached but without success. After officials repeatedly dismissed claims that Flint’s water was making people sick, its residents acted. Ultimately, civil society supported by scientists, doctors and journalists took the matter to the courts – and won. During investigations, and law suits, it became clear that some officials deliberately tried to manipulate test results. As could be expected, blame shifting became the name of the game in subsequent investigations. Council argued that they were not to blame as www.waterafrica.co.za