In April, 2014, residents of Flint, Michigan, started noticing that their drinking water tasted and smelled funny. 31 months later, and the city is still dealing with the effects of the switch to Flint River for their municipal water source. 10 people died from Legionnaires Disease, and 77 others were affected. Following is the video and transcript of the CNN report on what happened.
Ganim : Melissa Mays says the ominous change in the water was particularly noticeable at bath time.
Mays: My youngest would tell me “Mom, it’s yellow, and it’s a filmy gross, foamy thing.” And it would smell like open sewer. But we were being told “we’re still getting used to the new system, it’s safe, it’s okay…”
Ganim : But it wasn’t okay. Far from it. Flint’s tap water was laced with dangerous levels of lead. The state knew about it, and did nothing. The trouble began two years ago when the state decided to switch Flint from Detroit’s drinking water to a new system. But the new system wouldn’t be ready for two years. In the meantime, to save money, they switched to the Flint River water.
That first decision turned out to be a mistake, as did nearly every step the state took after it. Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality shoulders much of the blame – what a preliminary task force report calls an “absymal public response”. At the time the state agency told Flint it didn’t have to add an anti-corrosive agent to the water, saying it was “not necessary until two six-month monitoring periods had been conducted”. In other words, they were willing to wait a year to see whether the water was safe. All the while, highly corrosive river water flowed through the city’s lead pipes, leaching lead and other dangerous metals into the water supply, and what came out of the tap in many homes was toxic.
Almost immediately residents started complaining. Their water was brown. Some people developed rashes, became sick. Early tests revealed fecal coliform bacteria. So the city and state officials added chlorine to the water supply and told people to boil their water, both mistakes which can actually increase the level of lead.
At city meetings residents were repeatedly told the water was safe.
Edwards: We found the worst lead-in-water contamination that I have seen in 25 years, and believe me I’ve seen a lot.
Ganim : Residents didn’t find out about the lead until this man stepped in. Marc Edwards is a Virginia Tech researcher who tested the water early last year.
Edwards: It was very scary to see the levels of lead that were - hazardous waste levels of lead - were coming out of her tap water.
Ganim: That’s right. The lead levels in one home were so high water from the tap could be considered hazardous waste. His testing led to this EPA memo, an interim report, which was leaked last summer. It said the high levels of lead in the water were “especially alarming” because the state’s water testing was flawed. So the true lead levels were probably much higher.
Edwards: We were just waiting for the appropriate authorities to help Flint residents. To enforce Federal law.
Ganim: When Flint’s former mayor asked the EPA for more information, he was shut down – as you can see in this email exchange obtained by CNN. The EPA regional director writes “The preliminary draft report should not have been released outside the agency”, and that “..only when the report is revised and fully vetted will it be shared with the city.” But that wouldn’t happen until months later.
Meanwhile, families were still drinking water poisoned with lead. The EPA blames the state, saying in a statement to CNN, “What happened in Flint should not have happened,” and that “The EPA’s ability to oversee…was impacted by failures and resistance at the state and local levels…”
The state was continuing with its own mistakes. According to Marc Edwards, butchering around a water testing. They not only tested the wrong homes, but altered the reports, eliminating tests from two homes that would have shown toxic levels of lead. The state says the changes were legitimate.
Edwards: They fabricated a report that made it appear like Flint was passing the lead and copper with flying colors.
Ganim: In the fall the government admitted there was lead in the water, and Flint was switched back to Detroit’s water supply. But it wasn’t until earlier this month that the state of Michigan started bringing in bottled water and declared a state of emergency.