Courtesy of Tribune News Service

Opinion: Don't forget about Flint

We’ve all been hearing of the Flint water crisis for years now, but like many things in the media, after awhile it has been swept to the side. But not for the residents of Flint, Michigan. After 1,000 plus days, these American citizens still don’t have the simple necessity of clean water. Yet, just last week, the governor of Michigan Rick Snyder said he will no longer provide free bottled water to the citizens of Flint, as he believes the water is well within regulations. 

But before we get into that, I think it’s important we all know how Flint got to this point in the first place. Flint, like many American cities, was once a thriving industrial center in America. It was home to the largest General Motors plant — that is until the 1980s, when the plant downsized and moved many jobs overseas. 

With no jobs, the city began to suffer, and by 2011, Flint was in such bad shape that the state of Michigan took over its finances. As a cost cutting measure, the state decided to switch its sewer and water systems from that of Detroit to the Karegnondi Water Authority from Lake Huron. But these systems were not ready, so the state made the decision in April 2014 to use the Flint River. 

The state decided not to use an anti-corrosive agent, which is against federal law. This is where our horror story begins. The Flint River is 19 times more corrosive than Lake Huron, so as it flowed through the lead and galvanized pipes, the toxins from these pipes leaked into the water. 

But the government kept denying that the water was toxic, reassuring Flint citizens it was safe for them and their children to drink and use. That was until studies found area children had twice the amount of lead in their blood systems after the switch and twelve individuals actually died from Legionnaires' Disease, a disease that often comes from exposure to non-potable water systems. People began complaining about rashes and their hair falling out. The water system was slowly poisoning them. 

Lead can have detrimental effects on your health, especially in young children. The EPA lists kidney issues and cardiovascular effects. But it's even worse for children. Exposure to lead can cause behavioral and learning problems, lower IQ, anemia and growth problems. Indeed, the list of complications goes on and on.

In January 2016, the state of Michigan declared a state of emergency, but the damage had already been done. It is no longer just the water supply that is the issue, it’s the corroded pipes that it has flowed through, all because the state chose not to use a federally mandated agent in the water. Fifty percent of the homes in Flint have these outdated pipes, but with 40 percent of citizens under the poverty line and a price tag of roughly $10,000 a home to repair and replace, they can’t fix it on their own. And they shouldn’t have to as it was not their doing. 

The water itself may be passing the test as Snyder claims, but there are still 12,000 homes that need their pipes replaced. In the meantime, these people’s lives depend on water bottle distribution centers. It seems to me that the government made a mistake trying to save a dollar, and as a result has cost us millions, and, more importantly, the health of the citizens of Flint. It's been nearly four years and the problem is still not solved. 

This could have easily been any county in South Carolina. As a matter of fact, two dozen counties in South Carolina in the last seven years have tested over the federal regulation for lead, although they were much smaller areas outside of Rock Hill and Columbia. The levels have since dropped when Richland County took over private water systems, but we too could have faced a similar story. 

I understand that we have a capitalist economic system, but when did our government become the same? When did a dollar matter more than a life? I urge you not to forget those suffering in Flint, They still need your help. 

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