The Flint Water Crisis: It’s not just the water

Fint Water Crisis photo via MLive.com

Actual Flint, Michigan drinking water. photo via MLive.com

This Just In (updated 2/12/16) Gov. Snyder, after ‘choosing’ not to testify before a House Democratic subcommittee, has agreed to testify under oath. CLICK HERE for a statement from Congressman Dan Kildee (Dem-MI)

This Just In (Updated 2/10/16): On Legionnaire’s Disease.

Of late, the issue of Legionnaire’s Disease has been conflated with the leaded water of the Flint Water Crisis. A bit of clarity is in order.

  • Legionnaire’s disease is a type of pneumonia caused by the Legionella There are at least 45 named species of Legionella and around 19 are known to be pathogenic upon humans (Muder and Yu, 2002).
  • Legionella is a common, water-borne bacteria. It occurs naturally in freshwater environments such as ponds, lakes, and streams.
  • In untreated man-made water systems: hot water heaters, storage tanks and pipes, cooling towers, decorative fountains, or hot tubs, Legionella can readily reproduce.  It is then transmitted via aerosolization. Because healthcare facilities, which also host the most susceptible populations, use large, complex water systems and other aerosol-generating devices, this is a frequent setting for infection.
  • Legionella is certainly found in the Flint River. It has been hypothesized that breathing in infected water vapor during a shower or bath might cause Legionnaire’s. However, most infectious disease specialists have stated that it is highly unlikely that the recent uptick in Legionnaire’s is related to the current water crisis.
  • TL;DR. You get Legionnaire’s disease by breathing in water vapor that contains Legionella pneumophilus. The only likely manner in which Legionnaire’s could be contracted via drinking would be if some of the water was aspirated into the lungs.

Lead in the water and Legionella in the water – Do not confuse coincidence with causality.

 

This Just In (Updated: 2/9/16): This article was quoted at length on the NPR show Here & Now. You can listen to this segment of the show when you CLICK HERE.

This Just In (updated 1/23/16): According to the Detroit Free Press: Gov. Rick Snyder has hired the national public relations firm Mercury LLC, where the spouse of Snyder’s new chief of staff is a senior vice president, to help with communications during the Flint water crisis. Mercury has stated that no public funds are being used.

What happened in Flint, Michigan could happen in any Rust Belt city. General Motors began its staggering lurch out of Flint in the 1980s. At that point, my hometown began a rapid collapse from which, finally, the recovery is underway. Flint is now home to Kettering University, the University of Michigan-Flint, a branch of the Michigan State University Medical School, and Baker College. The old buildings downtown are being turned into lofts and businesses. There is a thriving and growing cultural, restaurant, and club scene.

But what Flint now lacks is lead-free drinking water. How is it that a city that was once the very vision of middle-class economy now resembles a Third World Nation?

Flint Water Crisis: Politics and Racism.

First, a quick overview of how the water got this way. Flint’s drinking water became leaded in April 2014 during a time when the city was controlled by an emergency financial manager appointed by Governor Rick “One Tough Nerd” Snyder. To save money during construction of a new water pipeline from Lake Huron, the city began to use Flint River water that was locally treated.

Previously, the city used Lake Huron water managed by the city of Detroit.  The Flint River, despite scattered reports of discoloration, was deemed safe to drink. It was also considered potentially more corrosive to the pipes due to the presence of Total Trihalomethanes, or TTHMs. The state DEQ has admitted it failed to add the needed chemicals to the Flint River to counteract any problems. Since that time, the head of the DEQ has resigned.

When chlorine, a common water purification agent,  is added to water that contains the dregs of organic matter such as algae, river weeds or decaying leaves, residual chlorine molecules react with this harmless organic matter to form organic chlorinated chemical compounds-TTHMs. The treated river water caused lead from the old pipes to leach into the drinking water. The end result – lead in the drinking water.

There are email trails from the frontlines up to the very top of the state government that show these problems were recognized, and ignored, from the outset.

You might be interested to know that the Flint River is now a fine place for recreation. With my undergraduate degree in zoology, I pay a great deal of attention to local watershed issues. Since the heyday of GM and its allied industries, all of whom used the river as an aquatic hazmat disposal unit, the Flint River is well on its way to recovery. The riparian plant life has blossomed. The important crustacean, amphibian, and mammalian indicator species have rebounded. The sportfishing has become reasonable. Kayakers and canoeists safely enjoy the river. It’s not the river water, folks.

Back to the politics and racism.

POLITICS. Savvy politicos may remember that NJ Governor Chris Christie, in a snit because Fort Lee, NJ’s Democratic mayor Mark Sokolich refused to endorse Christie’s re-election, caused five days’ worth of Hell for New Jersey commuters.

Michigan’s governor Rick Snyder is no different. Flint, with a long history of unionism, is a predominately blue community. The people of Flint have no political clout with a conservative Republican governor. As a result, the man upon whose desk the buck stops for this entire fiasco chose to ignore data from Prof. Marc Edwards and Virginia Tech’s world-renowned water testing facility and independent testing by local research physician Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha.

You might also be interested to know that state Attorney General Bill Schuette has vowed a thorough investigation. Of course, the AG works hand in hand with Mr. Snyder on most legal issues.  In the case of the class action lawsuits now taking shape, it should surprise no one that the AG might well be tasked with the Governor’s defense.

RACISM. The city of Flint is 60% black, and about 40% of those black lives live in poverty, according to Quick Facts at US Census.gov. Poor black people are easy to ignore. They have no clout. Despite Flint’s white mayor at the time, Dayne Walling, Flint has a reputation for being a black community. You doubt? Run a media mention search and see for yourself.

What can you do?

1) Keep the pressure on your elected officials. Remind them that this is the United States, and safe drinking water is not a negotiable item.

  • You might also be interested to know that the City of Flint has continued to issue water bills and shut-off notices to residents for water that they cannot use. The state Attorney General has asked them to stop. As of 9:00 am, January 20, no response.

2) Email President Obama and thank him for signing an emergency act that unlocks around $5,000,000 in aid.

3) Vote for people who understand what the hell is going on.

[RANT ALERT]

I was aghast, but not surprised, when I read yesterday morning that presidential candidate Marco Rubio said he hadn’t been “briefed or apprised and so was unable to comment upon the situation.” Really, Marco? FFS, it’s been on CNN, the New York Times, the freaking BBC, NPR, and probably Rush Limbaugh. And you don’t know what the hell is going on? Do you not pay attention? Marco, this is a political issue, not a jurisdictional one, and time will most likely show that just like Chris Christie  shut down a bridge because he’s a pissy little man, Rick Snyder chose to ignore the poisoning of people who could do him no good.

4) Help out, if you are able. Contribute to water and filter drives. The need for bottled potable water in Flint, Michigan will continue long after the media spotlight begins to shine somewhere else.

About last night.

Governor Snyder made his State of the State address. He took responsibility for the crisis, spread some of the blame to the people of Flint, and pledged to do all that was possible to make amends, ameliorate the crisis, and solve the related  problems moving forward.

That’s good, but it raises the bigger question:

Without the spotlight of the national media in full glare upon him, would the willful and criminal poisoning of Flint’s residents be anything greater to Snyder than an irritating and blood-filled tick attached to his rump?

 

 

 

 

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The Beginning
About David Stanley

Teacher & science guy, writer, musician, coach, skier and bike racer, I am interested… in everything; your story, food & spirits and music and everything in the natural world, spirit & sport. My son is 22 and still needs his Dad. I am 56 and so do I.
I blog on life and death, cancer and sports, kids and education at http://dstan58.blogspot.com/

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