Flint: High Consequences for Incompetence

By Lauren Johnston Source: Grapiq

Residents in Flint, Michigan were drinking poisonous water for a year and a half before Governor Rick Snyder finally intervened and declared a state of emergency at the start of January. The city’s pipes are damaged. The water supply remains contaminated from lead-polluted water leaching into the pipes. Flint children are now at a higher risk of developing lead poisoning. So what happened?

Back in 2011, Snyder appointed an emergency manager—Darnell Earley—to take control of Flint because the city was verging on bankruptcy. In 2014, Earley made the decision to switch Flint’s water supply from Detroit Water Service to the polluted Flint River. The switch saved Flint money, but the drinking water contained chemical byproducts, E. coli, Legionnaire’s Disease, and toxic levels of lead. Flint switched its supply back to Detroit’s late last year, but the water is still not safe enough for residents to drink and bottled water is being distributed in the meantime. Residents are outraged, as are presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, both of whom have called on Snyder to resign.

The first failure in Flint was a lack of communication between the state and city government, and a refusal on either side to take responsibility for the issue. As early as February 2015, Flint civilians were complaining about the toxicity of the water supply. When Flint reached out to Lansing for help, the state told them it was a local problem—despite the fact that Lansing had taken away Flint’s representative and placed an emergency manager to run the city instead.

In summer 2015, the State Department of Environmental Quality conducted rigged tests on the Flint water supply, shifting the Flint failure from incompetence to something more malevolent. According to Marc Edwards, an engineering professor from Virginia Tech, the DEQ did not collect water samples from homes they were required to. More, the state officials who oversaw the collection and testing of the samples rejected two samples that contained enough lead to push the test results above the level where officials needed to alert citizens about the high levels of lead in the water. These mishaps—or rather, major failures by the state department—were coordinated and carried through by officials who for one reason or another did not want to take responsibility for the problem, and so let it lag on, and let the residents of Flint deal with the consequences.

Original Infographic by DPR Graphic Design Editor Betty Zhou

The real losers in Flint are the residents who have suffered so dramatically as the result of carelessness and thoughtlessness on the part of the state—first, the emergency manager who chose to switch the water supply to the Flint River—second, the government in Lansing that failed to come through when Flint asked for help—and third, the DEQ officials who rigged the water testing over the summer. The average household income in Flint is $25,000. Indeed, 40 percent of its residents live in poverty. They have been paying $140 a month on average for contaminated water and have yet to find out when their water will be safe enough to consume.

Snyder should step down. It is unacceptable that he let such an oversight occur. The failures of Earley—the emergency manager—are a poor reflection on Snyder, especially considering that Flint is in a greater state of emergency now than it was when he appointed Earley in the first place. To prevent this type of public health crisis from happening in the future, leadership must be better. The only thing that went wrong in Flint was the fact that a lot of people did not do their jobs, and now thousands more are suffering as a result.