Water Crisis In Flint

By Rosemary Jenkins

Water, Water Everywhere…Not a Drop to Drink

It struck me that what we are witnessing at Porter Ranch’s Aliso Canyon is in some ways an echo of the disaster transpiring contemporaneously in Flint, Michigan. It is imperative, however, that we not repeat here the devastation that has been allowed to transpire there.


Just as Sempra/SoCalGas has ignored the warning signs it should have heeded to prevent the gas leak in the northern San Fernando Valley that has become such an environmental and health nightmare, so too have numerous officials in Michigan been guilty of what might reasonably be called misfeasance if not malfeasance—from those representing the City of Flint all the way up to the Governor’s office. They spurned the opportunity when they had the chance to prevent the tragedy in Flint that clearly could have been avoided had they acted in a more judicious, responsive, and expeditious manner.

And once again, too much of the decision-making was all about money. A decision was made back in 2013 to switch the source of water for Flint’s residents from the Detroit facility—Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD)] to the yet-to-be-built Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA), using the Flint River in the interim.

And why? Because it was thought to be cheaper to do that even though the facts demonstrated that it would have been less expensive to utilize the water from Detroit until KWA would be available. Sadly, because the State of Michigan was in a type of receivership, decisions over Flint’s welfare were largely out of its hands.

When queried why this untoward decision was made regarding Flint’s water supply, an offhand, rather flippant, and most startling and insensitive remark was offered from Governor Snyder’s office: “. . . if you don’t have another water source, where else was it going to come from?”

Why wasn’t the health and safety of the Flint customers considered important enough to put their interests first? Dubious fiscal considerations? Politics? Indifference to a constituency not likely to vote for Republican candidates who were the very ones making those unconscionable decisions in the first place?

The fact is that the pipes conducting water from the Flint River are and have long been highly corrosive and have been leaching lead into the city’s potable water system. Pipes to each home and business, including sink and shower faucets, have been directly affected through both negligence and lack of regular maintenance by the city authorities. Even the soil in which food crops are grown is being irrigated by water that has been poisoned by lead from the same sources.

When the switch was made from the DWSD to the Flint River, consumers immediately noticed a palpable difference in taste, smell, and appearance (water was often brown) but their complaints and grievances were ignored for the most part.

The victims here continue to be told that no long-term negative consequences will accrue from exposure to these gases despite expert testimony to the contrary. Such claims are simply too unbelievable.

Utilizing a method “to soften the water to reduce corrosion and leaching of lead from delivery pipes” would have mitigated the problem but was never mandated and the result was disastrous for the entire Flint community (which already has a history of being ignored in so many other vital ways).

As early as 2014, “the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality essentially dismissed the allegations [of poor tap water quality] . . . saying the state’s analysis of blood data didn’t show any signs of a problem.” Sound familiar? Ironically, when Governor Snyder decided to send 1500 lead filters to be utilized by Flint consumers to help mitigate the problem, wasn’t that an admission that the contamination could no longer be denied?

The following year, a Virginia Tech engineering professor warned (after significant testing) that “elevated lead levels in Flint kids’ blood” were already observable. Detroit ultimately admitted that they were remiss in misidentifying the problem with all its exigent implications but the damage was already being done.

So what are the effects of lead poisoning?

Children are particularly vulnerable. There can be considerable interference with the stages of childhood development. It was soon learned that the lead levels were so high that the IQs in children would likely be dramatically affected in lowering those numbers by several points because of lead exposure.

Symptoms for some children will be immediate but for others, they will not be symptomatic until adulthood. In fact, “lead is more harmful to children because their brains and nervous systems are still developing . . . and the damage from lead poisoning cannot be reversed.”

Adults, on the other hand, are better able to fend off the worst effects from lead poisoning in comparison to children, depending on length and type of exposure, but even for this category, adults have every reason for concern.

Victims can suffer from brain damage, coma, convulsions, nausea, hyper-irritability (consider ADD and ADHD), dizziness, seizures, forgetfulness, fatigue, kidney-system failure, severe anemia, endocrine anomalies, problems with fertility and reproduction, bone health, and tooth decay. Many of the neurological and behavioral injuries can be long-lasting or even permanent. Impairments to the intestinal and cardiovascular systems are not uncommon from lead exposure.

The list goes on but what is particularly scary is that a person can be without symptoms for years after exposure and then “suddenly” become so ill that death can ensue.

So what must we make of all this information? First of all, being pro-active regarding the safety and health of our communities and homes and of our bodies is one of the most critical and crucial things we can do. To hold accountable our government and its leaders at all levels is similarly essential. Becoming knowledgeable about the issues that affect us and acting appropriately on that information is indispensable as well.

Our own Los Angeles City pipes are ancient and are being replaced at a snail’s pace. They are corroded as well. Shouldn’t we now be questioning our own water supply, as a result of what we see in Flint? Should we not see the connection between the many burst water pipes in our greater city and the failure of the pipes carrying dangerous and potentially explosive gases to the homes and businesses and recreational areas where we live?

What is happening in Flint should remind us of the grievances being made by the Porter Ranch residents who are experiencing respiratory problems from exposure to chemicals (some of which have yet to be identified), nausea, nose bleeds, rashes, and migraines?

The victims here continue to be told that no long-term negative consequences will accrue from exposure to these gases despite expert testimony to the contrary. Such claims are simply too unbelievable.

We cannot, then, allow what is happening in Flint to happen here. . . and yet we are being witnesses to our own calamity-in-the-making in Porter Ranch. We cannot, as consumers and voters, let others make decisions that can adversely affect us without first offering our own input. Our leaders are and must be answerable to us—the people who put them in their current positions!

It is refreshing, however, that through constant pressure from townhall meetings, exposure from the media, and the unrelenting demands of the community, actions are being taken to resolve a problem that should never have been allowed to happen in the first place. Something as simple as replacing worn-out safety valves (the moral thing to do even if technically the law did not mandate it) would have saved thousands from the misery they are experiencing and the billions of dollars that must be spent (and must come from somewhere) to resolve the issue once and for all.

We can never again allow more Flints or Porter Ranches!

In the meantime, for more information regarding the lead issue as it pertains to all of us, see the following:

• Housing and Urban Development (HUD): 1-800-RID-LEAD • National Information Center: 1-800 LEAD-FYI • National Lead Information Center: 1-800-424-5323

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