Bottled water is a Band-Aid. Flint is hemorrhaging — it’s going to take more.
Angie Aker By Angie Aker
Why wouldn’t Michael Moore want us sending water to Flint, Michigan?
The documentary-maker wrote an open letter imploring people to think deeper than just the surface-level solution of sending bottled water when it comes to helping the city, which is in the middle of a public water crisis.
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The short story of what happened in Flint in case you don’t know: An emergency manager appointed by the governor chose to switch Flint’s water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River. They didn’t treat the water correctly, which meant just about everyone was exposed to lead in their drinking water for over a year, and officials sat on this information until it was truly a health crisis of epic proportions.
“I was hysterical. I cried when they gave me my first lead report,” LeeAnne Walters, whose children all tested positive for lead poisoning after the Flint River switchover, told the Detroit Free Press about the heart-wrenching moment she learned they’d been affected.
“I pushed them to drink water — ‘Put down that juice, go get some water.’ [Now] lead is in our blood,” Melissa Mays, another Flint mom, also told the Free Press, expressing her regret at having her teen boys drink the water. She says now she will be plagued with worries and doubts whenever something goes wrong with them in the future, not knowing if it’s from the lead or not.
Essentially, the Flint water crisis is a complex, gargantuan-level disaster that will take various phases and layers of work to address. The first phase of response has been to establish that the poisoning has occurred, ring the alarm loud and clear for the whole country, and to immediately get some clean water to the citizens. That’s a necessary short-term reaction and definitely something that was needed.
And people rushed to fill that need.
Like when Cher got Icelandic Glacial to partner with her to donate trucks full of water:
And many other celebrities and regular citizens followed suit.
But what comes next? And does Moore really want us to stop sending water to residents in need?
The city’s immediate need for bottled water is far from over, but the larger point he’s trying to make is right on. We can only solve the problem if we focus on more than just fixing one symptom of it. Here’s how we can do that.
A kind of second phase of recovery requires moving on to doing things to fix Flint’s water systems for the medium- and long-terms and to rectify the faulty system that allowed this lead poisoning to occur in the first place. It’d be foolish to let the decision-makers responsible for such bad oversight just promise they’ll have really good oversight this time, they swear, in order to fix the mess.
Here are three things all Americans should be doing right now (no matter your political affiliation) in order to help Flint move forward for the long term:
1. Call for Gov. Rick Snyder’s resignation.
Snyder speaks to the media about the Flint water crisis on Jan. 27, 2016. Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images.
This isn’t about partisan politics; it’s just a good idea for how to move on from this crisis. A neutral party is needed in Michigan to assess the situation clearly, not from the vantage point of someone who has a clear reason to minimize his role in the disaster. In his open letter, Moore explains why this is so important:
“Whether it’s via resignation, recall or prosecution, this must happen now because he is still refusing to take the aggressive and immediate action needed. His office, as recently as this past Thursday, was claiming the EPA had no legal authority to tell him what to do.”
You can sign the petition here.
2. Insist the state of Michigan be held financially responsible for its role in Flint’s poisoning.
Snyder is trying to have Flint declared a federal disaster zone, which will likely at some point be appropriate and necessary. But the significance of this is that it will take the state off the hook for having to cough up the funds it should be providing to clean the mess it pretty much willfully made.
Here’s the financial breakdown from Moore:
“This year the state treasury posted nearly a $600 million surplus. There is also another $600 million in the state’s ‘rainy day fund.’ That’s $1.2 billion – just about what Flint’s congressman, Dan Kildee, estimates it will cost to replace the water infrastructure and care for the thousands of poisoned children throughout their growing years.”
Fred the handyman explains a new water filter to a resident of Shiloh Commons, a low-income housing area in Flint. Citizens have been given water testing jugs, filters, and clean water by the National Guard. Photo by Sarah Rice/Getty Images.
Once the state pays its share of the clean up, the federal funds should be a next step, but the state’s responsibility for the crisis should not be ignored or overlooked.
Remember the mom beating herself up for having her sons drink the tap water? Chances are she and everyone like her are going to need a lot of services to help their children achieve the best cognitive abilities possible. It’s gonna require funding — every penny of assistance Flint can get will be needed — and that includes state money.
How do you insist on this? Contact your local paper and write a letter to your editor or just send lots of tweets (to news sources and elected officials), no matter where you live.
3. As soon as the state has earmarked their share of payment for Flint, the recovery operations need to be placed into the hands of the federal government. STAT.
National Guard members distribute free water to Flint citizens on Jan. 23, 2016. Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images.
Moore has pointed out that the water replacement efforts must be bigger in scope than just providing bottled water. He’s right. The federal government can send in help on a level the state just can’t. Here’s what he proposes:
“The State government cannot be trusted to get this right. So, instead of declaring a federal disaster zone, President Obama must declare the same version of martial law that Governor Snyder declared over the cities of Flint and Detroit. He must step in and appoint a federal emergency manager in the state capitol to direct the resources of both the state and federal government in saving Flint. This means immediately sending in FEMA in full force. It means sending in the CDC to determine the true extent of not just the lead poisoning in the water, but also the latest outbreak that has been discovered in Flint – a tenfold increase in the number of Flint people who’ve contracted Legionnaires Disease. There have now been 87 cases since the switch to the Flint River water, and ten people have died. The local hospital has also noted sharp increases in a half-dozen other toxins found in people’s bodies. We need the CDC. The EPA must take over the testing of the water, and the Army Corps of Engineers must be sent in to begin replacing the underground pipes. Like the levees in New Orleans, this will be a massive undertaking. If it is turned over to for-profit businesses, it will take a decade and cost billions. This needs to happen right now and Obama must be in charge.”
Again, you can call for this by writing letters to the editor, signing Moore’s petition, and calling your elected officials and asking them to take a stand together for Flint on your (their constituent’s) behalf.
These are the things we can all do to help the people of Flint beyond just sending bottled water.
It’s not that bottled water isn’t appreciated. It is. It’s just that it only goes so far for so long. And bottled water treats the symptom, not the problem. At this point, Flint needs people to roll up their sleeves and help get them back on track by holding the people who caused the problem in the first place accountable.
Matt Hopper comforts 5-year-old Nyla Hopper after she has blood taken for a free lead testing. Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images.
The people of Flint need to know that even though their state failed them, America has not forsaken them — or the possibility for their futures. Flint can rise again, in time, with our help.
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