Flint, It’s People, It’s River, Overcomes

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The documentary “Here’s To Flint” examines the origins of the Flint, Michigan, water crisis and the determined efforts of residents, activists and researchers to learn the truth about the city’s lead-contaminated drinking water.

Flint Water Tragedy, Michigan

The crisis began when an unelected emergency manager appointed by Michigan’s Republican Governor Rick Snyder switched the source of Flint’s water to the corrosive Flint River in an apparent bid to save money. The river water corroded the city’s pipes and poisoned the water with lead. Photo of Water Tower in Flint. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

10 Things They Won’t Tell You About the Flint Water Tragedy. But I Will

By Michael Moore, Published in MichaelMoore.com

News of the poisoned water crisis in Flint has reached a wide audience around the world. The basics are now known: the Republican governor, Rick Snyder, nullified the free elections in Flint, deposed the mayor and city council, then appointed his own man to run the city. To save money, they decided to unhook the people of Flint from their fresh water drinking source, Lake Huron, and instead, make the public drink from the toxic Flint River. When the governor’s office discovered just how toxic the water was, they decided to keep quiet about it and covered up the extent of the damage being done to Flint’s residents, most notably the lead affecting the children, causing irreversible and permanent brain damage. Citizen activists uncovered these actions, and the governor now faces growing cries to resign or be arrested.

It was the summer of 2014 when LeeAnne Walters first realized something was very wrong: Each time she bathed the three-year-olds, they would break out in tiny red bumps. Sometimes, when Gavin had soaked in the tub for a while, scaly red skin would form across his chest at the water line. That November, after brown water started flowing from her taps, Walters decided it was time to stock up on bottled water.


“Here’s To Flint” produced by Michigan Journalist of the Year Curt Guyette and filmmaker Kate Levy, presented by the ACLU of Michigan, tells the inside story of how local residents, journalists and scientists organized to uncover the water contamination crisis that has sparked congressional hearings, the resignations of public officials and a national debate about the impacts of austerity and infrastructure decline in the United States.

Here are ten things that you probably don’t know about this crisis because the media, having come to the story so late, can only process so much. But if you live in Flint or the State of Michigan as I do, you know all to well that what the greater public has been told only scratches the surface.

While the Children in Flint Were Given Poisoned Water to Drink, General Motors Was Given a Special Hookup to the Clean Water. A few months after Governor Snyder removed Flint from the clean fresh water we had been drinking for decades, the brass from General Motors went to him and complained that the Flint River water was causing their car parts to corrode when being washed on the assembly line. The Governor was appalled to hear that GM property was being damaged, so he jumped through a number of hoops and quietly spent $440,000 to hook GM back up to the Lake Huron water, while keeping the rest of Flint on the Flint River water. Which means that while the children in Flint were drinking lead-filled water, there was one — and only one — address in Flint that got clean water: the GM factory.

“I feel Snyder should be locked up,”said Yvette Mark of Southfield, a suburb of Detroit. “Snyder killed kids, elderly people… they were trying to wipe a whole city out.”

STORY: Detropia: Detroit as Utopia or Dystopia?

Flint Water Crisis, Michigan

Flint resident Angela Hickmon, 56, chants during a protest outside City Hall in downtown Flint on Jan. 25. JAKE MAY/THE FLINT JOURNAL-MLIVE.COM VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

For Just $100 a Day, This Crisis Could’ve Been Prevented. Federal law requires that water systems which are sent through lead pipes must contain an additive that seals the lead into the pipe and prevents it from leaching into the water. Someone at the beginning suggested to the Governor that they add this anti-corrosive element to the water coming out of the Flint River. “How much would that cost?” came the question. “$100 a day for three months,” was the answer. I guess that was too much, so, in order to save $9,000, the state government said f*** it — and as a result the State may now end up having to pay upwards of $1.5 billion to fix the mess.

There’s More Than the Lead in Flint’s Water. In addition to exposing every child in the city of Flint to lead poisoning on a daily basis, there appears to be a number of other diseases we may be hearing about in the months ahead. The number of cases in Flint of Legionnaires Disease has increased tenfold since the switch to the river water. Eighty-seven people have come down with it, and at least ten have died. In the five years before the river water, not a single person in Flint had died of Legionnaires Disease. Doctors are now discovering that another half-dozen toxins are being found in the blood of Flint’s citizens, causing concern that there are other health catastrophes which may soon come to light.


Don’t Blame the Flint River…

People’s Homes in Flint Are Now Worth Nothing Because They Cant Be Sold. Would you buy a house in Flint right now? Who would? So every homeowner in Flint is stuck with a house that’s now worth nothing. That’s a total home value of $2.4 billion down the economic drain. People in Flint, one of the poorest cities in the U.S., don’t have much to their name, and for many their only asset is their home. So, in addition to being poisoned, they have now a net worth of zero. (And as for employment, who is going to move jobs or start a company in Flint under these conditions? No one.) Has Flint’s future just been flushed down that river?

“Snyder is an accountant… that doesn’t mean take money out at the expense of people’s lives,”added Muhammed Hussain of West Bloomfield.

STORY: Greening Detroit: Positive Change Moves Slow and Fast

Flint River, Flint Water pollution

Etched into the landscape by the same glaciers that carved the Great Lakes about 10,000 years ago, the river has been the lifeblood of Flint. It was a source of food, water and transportation for Native Americans who first settled the area. Following the arrival of European immigrants, the river supported a thriving fur trade in the 1700s, carried millions of logs to saw mills in the 1800s, and fueled the rise of the automobile industry in the early 1900s. – The Flint River Photo: Nathan Holth in HistoricBridges.com

 

While They Were Being Poisoned, They Were Also Being Bombed. Here’s a story which has received little or no coverage outside of Flint. During these two years of water contamination, residents in Flint have had to contend with a decision made by the Pentagon to use Flint for target practice. Literally. Actual unannounced military exercises – complete with live ammo and explosives – were conducted last year inside the city of Flint. The army decided to practice urban warfare on Flint, making use of the thousands of abandoned homes which they could drop bombs on. Streets with dilapidated homes had rocket-propelled grenades fired upon them. For weeks, an undisclosed number of army troops pretended Flint was Baghdad or Damascus and basically had at it. It sounded as if the city was under attack from an invading army or from terrorists. People were shocked this could be going on in their neighborhoods. Wait – did I say “people?” I meant, Flint people. As with the Governor, it was OK to abuse a community that held no political power or money to fight back. BOOM!

The Wife of the Governor’s Chief of Staff Is a Spokeswoman for Nestle, Michigan’s Largest Owner of Private Water Reserves. As Deep Throat told Woodward and Bernstein: “Follow the money.” Snyder’s chief of staff throughout the two years of Flint’s poisoning, Dennis Muchmore, was intimately involved in all the decisions regarding Flint. His wife is Deb Muchmore, who just happens to be the spokesperson in Michigan for the Nestle Company – the largest owner of private water sources in the State of Michigan. Nestle has been repeatedly sued in northern Michigan for the 200 gallons of fresh water per minute it sucks from out of the ground and bottles for sale as their Ice Mountain brand of bottled spring water. The Muchmores have a personal interest in seeing to it that Nestles grabs as much of Michigan’s clean water was possible – especially when cities like Flint in the future are going to need that Ice Mountain.

“The issue with the (lead in Flint’s) drinking water stemmed from the Flint River having natural differences in chemistry compared to water from Lake Huron,” Biologist Joseph Leonardi from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources said. “The river water itself was not to blame.”

The Flint River contains chlorides (some of which likely come from road salt), but the water does not pose direct threats to fish, wildlife or people who use the river. Chlorides cause problems in drinking water mainly because they corrode metal in the pipes and plumbing fixtures that transport water into homes.

Flint’s recent drinking water problems increased concerns about water quality in the river, but research shows the waterway is improving.

In Michigan, from Flint water, to Crime and Murder, to GM Ignition Switches, It’s a Culture of Death. It’s not just the water that was recklessly used to put people’s lives in jeopardy. There are many things that happen in Flint that would give one the impression that there is a low value placed on human life. Flint has one of the worst murder and crime rates in the country. Just for context, if New York City had the same murder rate as Flint, Michigan, the number of people murdered last year in New York would have been almost 4,000 people – instead of the actual 340 who were killed in NYC in 2015. But it’s not just street crime that makes one wonder about what is going on in Michigan. Last year, it was revealed that, once again, one of Detroit’s automakers had put profit ahead of people’s lives. General Motors learned that it had installed faulty ignition switches in many of its cars. Instead of simply fixing the problem, mid-management staff covered it up from the public. The auto industry has a history of weighing the costs of whether it’s cheaper to spend the money to fix the defect in millions of cars or to simply pay off a bunch of lawsuits filed by the victims surviving family members. Does a cynical, arrogant culture like this make it easy for a former corporate CEO, now Governor, turn a blind eye to the lead that is discovered in a municipality’s drinking water?

“The bottled water, the filters – that’s a Band-Aid,” says Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician in Flint who played a central role in exposing the water crisis. “We need to think about tomorrow, because this is an issue that we will be dealing with for a long time to come.”

“Our kids have every obstacle to their success,” she says. “And then we gave them lead.”

Don’t Call It “Detroit Water” — It’s the Largest Source of Fresh Drinking Water in the World. The media keeps saying Flint was using “Detroit’s water.” It is only filtered and treated at the Detroit Water Plant. The water itself comes from Lake Huron, the third largest body of fresh water in the world. It is a glacial lake formed over 10,000 years ago during the last Ice Age and it is still fed by pure underground springs. Flint is geographically the last place on Earth where one should be drinking poisoned water.

ALL the Children Have Been Exposed, As Have All the Adults, Including Me. That’s just a fact. If you have been in Flint anytime from April 2014 to today, and you’ve drank the water, eaten food cooked with it, washed your clothes in it, taken a shower, brushed your teeth or eaten vegetables from someone’s garden, you’ve been exposed to and ingested its toxins. When the media says “9,000 children under 6 have been exposed,” that means ALL the children have been exposed because the total number of people under the age of 6 in Flint is… 9,000! The media should just say, “all.” When they say “47 children have tested positive”, that’s just those who’ve drank the water in the last week or so. Lead enters the body and does it’s damage to the brain immediately. It doesn’t stay in the blood stream for longer than a few days and you can’t detect it after a month. So when you hear “47 children,” that’s just those with an exposure in the last 48 hours. It’s really everyone.

In coordination with conservative state legislators, Governor Snyder moved to enact the emergency manager law, which allowed appointed — not elected — city managers to privatize city services, cancel union contracts, and dissolve local governments, all in the name of saving struggling cities and school districts. Call it disaster capitalism. Snyder had done so under the influence of the Mackinac Center of Michigan, a think tank funded by the powerful and defiantly conservative DeVos Family of Amway Multi-Level Marketing Company, as well as Charles and David Koch. Included were all of the recommendations from the think tank regarding the power and ability of these emergency managers.

This Was Done, Like So Many Things These Days, So the Rich Could Get a Big Tax Break. When Governor Snyder took office in 2011, one of the first things he did was to get a multi-billion dollar tax break passed by the Republican legislature for the wealthy and for corporations. But with less tax revenues, that meant he had to start cutting costs. So, many things – schools, pensions, welfare, safe drinking water – were slashed. Then he invoked an executive privilege to take over cities (all of them majority black) by firing the mayors and city councils whom the local people had elected, and installing his cronies to act as “dictators” over these cities. Their mission? Cut services to save money so he could give the rich even more breaks. That’s where the idea of switching Flint to river water came from. To save $15 million! It was easy. Suspend democracy. Cut taxes for the rich. Make the poor drink toxic river water. And everybody’s happy. Except those who were poisoned in the process. All 102,000 of them. In the richest country in the world.

Click here to sign the #ArrestGovSnyder petition.

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About Jack Eidt

Novelist, urban theorist, and environmental journalist, Jack Eidt careens down human-nature's all consuming one-way highway to its inevitable conclusion -- Wilder Utopia. He co-founded Wild Heritage Planners, based out of Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at jack (dot) eidt (at) wilderutopia (dot) com. Follow him on Twitter @WilderUtopia and @JackEidt