The state of Michigan forced nearly 100,000 of its residents to drink toxic tap water in violation of federal law and ignored citizens’ complaints, a lawsuit alleges. Residents of Flint, a city of 100,000 people, were exposed to high levels of lead and other toxins when the state switched the city’s drinking water from Lake Huron to the Flint River in order to save money.
“The water would come in brown and my daughter was like ‘Mom … why is the water brown?’” Flint resident Rhonda Kelso told CNN.
In fact, the water that started coming out of Kelso’s tap was so brown she thought it was sewage.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) switched the city’s water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River in April 2014
“We thought it was a joke,” Kelso said when she heard of the plans to use Flint River water “People my age and older, thought ‘They’re not going to do that.’”
The river was known among residents as a polluted body of water. Shortly after the switch to river water, a General Motors plant stopped using city water, saying it rusted parts. That was in October 2014 – nearly a year before government officials acknowledged a problem. In September 2015, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder called for more lead testing, and in October 2015, he said the city’s water should be switched back to Lake Huron. But by then, the health damage had been done.
The state failed to add an anticorrosive agent to the river water, a practice not required in other bodies of water, the lawsuit alleges. That caused the water to corrode the pipes, tainting the supply with not only iron but lead. Many of the service lines to homes contain lead.
Later, tests showed the water to be five times that of the EPA’s “concern” level. In one area in Flint, it was 31 times the concern level.
Kelso is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The effect of the lead included skin lesions, hair loss, brain damage, seizures, stomach problems and mental illness.
Disturbingly, adding the anticorrosive agent to the water would have cost the city just $100 a day, CNN reported. The agent could have eliminated 90 percent of the problems, CNN said.
One of the first people to notice the problem was Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician who discovered that toddlers in Flint had high levels of lead in their blood. Parents, she said, were concerned about hair loss and rashes on children.
Hanna-Attisha shared her concerns with the state, which at first ignored her and attacked her findings, CNN said. It was as if the state was wearing “blinders,” she said.
“If you were to put something in a population to keep them down for generations and generations to come, it would be lead,” Hanna-Attisha said. “It’s a well-known, potent neurotoxin. There’s tons of evidence on what lead does to a child, and it is one of the most damning things that you can do to a population. It drops your IQ, it affects your behavior, it’s been linked to criminality, it has multigenerational impacts. There is no safe level of lead in a child.”
Now, politicians are pointing fingers and looking to distribute blame.
The New York Times reported that Miguel Del Toral, an expert for the Environmental Protection Agency, had expressed concern early in 2015 that the state was using the wrong lead tests.
“Given the very high lead levels found at one home and the preflushing happening in Flint, I’m worried that the whole town may have much higher lead levels than the compliance results indicated, since they are using preflushing ahead of their compliance sampling,” Del Toral wrote in an email.
Preflushing involves running the water for five minutes before testing it.
“You know, I never thought this was something that we would be begging for, crying for … clean, affordable water,” Flint Mayor Karen Weaver told CNN.
The state is currently handing out water filters and bottled water.
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