JIM CREES: How about a cup of water?
So ... let’s talk about Flint.
And let’s talk about places such as Fork Township.
Flint’s drinking water is contaminated. This is no surprise to some people, especially folks living in Flint. They have been opening the taps and finding an odd mixture of water, sludge and heavy metals flowing out since 2014.
At worst estimate, some 12,000 children have stunningly high levels of lead in their blood. Many are already suffering from a wide range of medical conditions and symptoms directly connected to the water poisoning.
And lo and behold, nobody seems to have known what happened ... at least initially. Today, they kinda know what happened, but those involved are still very, Very, VERY foggy about the who, where and why.
Too late, politicians in Michigan, specifically the governor, realized this crisis was bigger than expected or feared. Then, two years too late, all and sundry started beating their chests and crying, “Woe is me.”
Lawsuits were filed. Investigations were started. A state of emergency was declared.
At least four government officials (including two from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and one from the Environmental Protection Agency) resigned.
They resigned. They were not fired ... or arrested!
Governor Rick Snyder apologized for the mess and promised the people of Flint he would stand firm with them. (He will stand and support them, but he’ll never need to drink the water.)
Back in 2014, when people in Flint started being concerned, they had no one to listen to them. Not Democrats. Not Republicans. Not city officials. And certainly not anyone in Lansing.
Back then, some tests were taken by government officials and they came up pretty inconclusive. There just didn’t seem to be a crisis, or even a serious problem.
Then an independent researcher contacted by a concerned parent found levels of lead in a private home water system that were something like 1,300 times higher than permissible and acceptable levels.
The private researcher, from Virginia Tech, (not from Michigan!), was pretty critical in his assessment of the situation. In fact, he said the state and federal governmental agencies had simply lied to the people of Flint.
“There are many ways to game the system,” reported Dr. Yanna Lambrinidou to the Guardian newspaper in an interview. “In Flint, they went to test neighborhoods they knew didn’t have a problem. You can also flush the water to get rid of the lead. If you flush it before sampling, the problem will go away.
“The EPA has completely turned its gaze away from this. There is no robust oversight here, the only oversight is from the people getting hurt. Families who get hurt, such as in Flint, are the overseers. It’s a horrendous situation. The system is absolutely failing.”
The system is “absolutely failing.”
And one of the reasons the system is failing is the victims have little or no voice.
The unfortunate facts of life are these:
Water such as is flowing through the Flint municipal water system would never flow through the pipes in Rick Snyder’s neighborhood.
The situation in Flint will never happen in Grosse Pointe or East Grand Rapids.
You’ll never hear or read about dumping sludge or brine down injection wells in Birmingham Hills or Rochester Heights.
You’ll never hear about the importation of garbage and toxic waste to Ada.
You won’t because of one good reason.
Over, and over, and over again, it has been demonstrated that economically depressed municipalities and rural communities have little or no voice when making complaints to state and federal agencies.
People in power listen to people with money.
There. I said it.
What is happening in Flint is a classic case of environmental injustice. When poor, economically depressed mothers in Flint were worried about the horrifying water their children were drinking - stinking of rust and sulfur and the color of piss and blood - their only hope for justice was from people who told them there was no problem, but who never, Ever, EVER would have allowed their own children either to drink the same water, or live in the same circumstances.
What happened and is happening in Flint would never happen in a Forest Hills neighborhood.
What is cause for concern in Fork Township will never be a cause for concern in West Bloomfield.
A distraught mother’s cry from help in Flint will never carry the same weight as a snap of a dowager’s fingers in Ada.
And so, the beleaguered people of Flint will deal with their poisoning for years, if not generations to come.
Communities such as Fork Township will wake up to more sludge, garbage and waste being dumped and pumped in their back yards with little warning or support from the MDEQ or the EPA.
But not to worry. The governor will stand strong with the people of his state, (although heavily redacted emails prove he and his staff knew about the problem months and months before actually doing anything — or accepting any responsibility.)
In any normal society, the governor, the director of MDEQ and the director of the EPA would resign in shame.