The water situation in Flint is nothing short of tragic. And it is heartbreaking to think that there are so many people who live in that city who have been subject to having their tap water poisoned with lead, and were then basically left to fend for themselves. When this story first captured national attention, there was an outpouring of support. Thousands of people started donating bottled water and Governor Rick Snyder apologized for the lack of accountability among state leadership and the utter failure of various government agencies to respond and remedy the situation when it first came to light.
Now that media attention has died down a bit and some water filters, many, many bottles of water, and lead tests have been distributed, it seems the Governor thinks he has actually accomplished something. But the truth is that the assistance given by the government to help mitigate this disaster has been absolutely insufficient. Fortunately, there are many volunteers willing to help, and great organizations like Crossing Water, which is based in Ann Arbor, are there to pick up the slack. The co-director of this group, Michael Hood, recently gave his assessment of the situation in an NPR interview covering the current state of the situation in Flint. Hood had this to say:
“’I’m angered that these people have been deserted,’ said Hood. ‘They’re left to their own devices. It’s like people camping in their own homes. People’s water heaters have broken down because of the corrosion in there. People have been taking showers and baths with cold water for a year … you have folks who are on public assistance and they have a very little financial pad, and they use that pad to buy water every day. Then they have to decide: Do I buy food? Do I buy medicine? Do I pay my heating bill? Do I pay my water bill? For water that is poison to them. This keeps me up. This makes me angry as hell that this hasn’t been addressed still at this point is mind-blowing to me.’”
Indeed, it is mind-blowing to say the least, that such a disaster could take place in this day in age, and that the response from those in charge could be so lackadaisical. Both the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency failed to take action a critical points, where something could have been done to help prevent the water crisis from escalating the way it did. There were abysmal failures at every level of government; federal, state and local. And those who get to pay the consequences for it are the same people that been paying for the gross negligence of those mismanaged the situation.
So now, a plan that was supposed to save Flint $5 million by switching the city’s water source, will now likely cost up to $1.5 billion to fix everything that was screwed up by this decision, after it’s all said and done. In the meantime, water filters and bottled water will have to be made available until the infrastructure can be replaced, in order to ensure that the people of Flint have clean water flowing from their taps once again. So far it’s looking as though $30 million will be approved to help pay down water bills for the residents of Flint, but there still haven’t been any plans or provisions made to actually rectify the situation.
The people of Flint would be right to be leary of government help, to be distrustful of the state leaders who betrayed them, and to develop their own ways of providing clean water for themselves at this point. They’ve been living without potable water in their homes for more than a year now, and continue to suffer as state officials decide the best way to fix the situation. And, as Michael Hood and his Crossing Water organization have shown, the best way to make up for the lack of action from those who are most responsible is to just do it yourself.
We could all stand to learn a lesson in preparedness and survival from the situation in Flint. Clearly, we shouldn’t take for granted that our elected officials and so-called leaders are going to make the right decisions to keep us and our children safe from environmental toxins and contaminants. But there are several things we can each do in order to be more prepared if our communities continue to experience more of the same.
First of all, faucet water filters are a good precaution to take for anyone who is concerned about the quality of their water, or the potential for lead poisoning or chemical contamination of municipal water supplies. The National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) is a good resource for learning more about how to assess your risk of lead exposure and how to get rid of lead with filtration. Secondly, if you’re concerned about lead in your tap water, and want a simple, portable solution for filtration, the Alexapure or Big Berkey stand alone gravity water filtration systems are a good choice. And if you want to go all out, you might consider a rainwater collection system and bypass the municipal water supply all together.