That spring, Flint, under direction from state officials, turned off the drinking water it had relied upon for nearly 50 years. The city planned to join a new regional system, and while it waited for it to be built, it began bringing in its water from the Flint River. But after the switch, many of his neighbours grew alarmed at the water that flowed from their kitchen taps and showerheads.
They packed public meetings, wrote questioning letters, and protested at city hall. They filled plastic bottles to show how the water looked brown, or orange, and sometimes had particulates floating in it. Showering seemed to be connected with skin rashes and hair loss. The water smelled foul. A sip of it put the taste of a cold metal coin on your tongue. Residents were advised to leave the taps on for a few minutes before using the water, to get a clean flow.
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As the months went by, the city plant tinkered with treatment and issued a few boil-water advisories. State environmental officials said again and again that there was nothing to worry about. The water was fine. By making it a commonplace for clean water to be delivered to homes, businesses and schools, untold lives have been saved from cholera, dysentery and typhoid fever. In Flint, the water supply was instrumental in turning General Motors — founded in in Vehicle City, as Flint was known — into a global economic giant.
The advancing underground network of pipes defined the growing city and its metropolitan region, which boasted of being home to one of the strongest middle classes in the country. But in the latter part of the 20th century, GM closed most of its plants in the city and eliminated almost all of the local auto jobs. Smaller companies followed suit or simply shut down for good.
Between and alone, nearly of them left the downtown area. With the shuttered businesses came shuttered houses and schools. More than half the population, which had reached a high point of nearly , in , disappeared. Some 22, people left between and The empty structures they left behind were both disheartening and dangerous, not only because they were prone to break-ins and fires, but also because they literally crumbled on to the sidewalks where people passed by. At the same time, the Flint metro region — that is, the suburbs — grew exponentially.
It was a widening circle of wealth with a deteriorating centre.
‘Nothing to worry about. The water is fine’: how Flint poisoned its people
With so much lost, Flint needed help. A large-scale intervention of some kind. At the same time, Flint suffered the Great Recession, the mortgage crisis and a major restructuring of the auto industry. If you wanted to kill a city, that is the recipe. And yet Flint was very much alive. In , the year of the switch to a new source of drinking water, it was the seventh-largest city in the state.
For about 99, people, Flint was home. And they did what they could to fill the gaps. They covered the windows and doors of vacant properties, and paid young men to mow lawns and board up empty homes. You could see the change. But on that sweltering summer day, there was that water pouring out of the fire hydrant, as children sprinted back and forth through its spray. This is the story of how the city of Flint was poisoned by its own water.
It was not because of a natural disaster, or simple negligence, or even because some corner-cutting company was blinded by profit. Instead, a disastrous choice to break a crucial environmental law, followed by 18 months of delay and cover-up by the city, state and federal governments, put a staggering number of citizens in peril. The big public utility drew from the freshwater of Lake Huron, a lake so deep and fierce that it once swallowed eight ships in a single storm.
It remained on hand only because the state required a backup water source for emergencies. But while the quality of DWSD water was reliable, its cost was not. Residents had urged their leaders to relieve the burden of pricey water. But at this point it was difficult for the city to do much about it. Its infrastructure was built to serve Flint when it had twice the people it had now; to maintain it, fewer ratepayers had to carry a heavier burden.
The county drain commissioner, Jeff Wright, was fond of portraying the DWSD as a price-gouging monopoly, and he saw an opportunity to develop an alternative. This new water authority was just an idea at first, and seen as a negotiating tactic to pressure the DWSD for better rates.
Did medieval people really drink beer instead of water?
But then the not-yet-existent KWA got a permit from the Michigan department of environmental quality to pull 85m gallons of water per day out of the Great Lakes. Flint and its neighbouring communities were invited to help build the new water system from the ground up. Unlike the Detroit system, which delivered treated water, the KWA would pump raw water to the communities it served.
That meant they would have to treat the water first, before selling it on to residents and businesses. For Flint, it would mean rebooting the old treatment plant and navigating the complexities of water chemistry in-house. But Wright, the eventual head of the KWA, lobbied fiercely for it, on the grounds of savings, independence and stability.
In , Flint contracted with the KWA to purchase 18m gallons of water for the city per day. Until it was ready, the other communities that were moving to the new system simply paid the DWSD for continuing water service. Flint, however, made the unusual decision to enlist a different source of water during this transition period.
The city turned to its emergency supply: The Flint River was not an obvious choice. It had borne so much mistreatment from industry and development —chemical dumping, sewage effluent — that locals had learned to avoid it.
‘Nothing to worry about. The water is fine’: how Flint poisoned its people | News | The Guardian
After a series of floods in the early 20th century, massive concrete barricades were built to channel the downtown section. They were meant to make the riverfront safer, but became a fortress line that barred people from the water. While deindustrialisation and the rise of environmental regulations had vastly improved the water quality, the community still eyed it with suspicion. Generations of kids were taught to fish in the Flint River, casting lines off the grassy banks in their neighbourhoods, but invariably learned to toss the catfish and carp back into the current.
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Write a product review. Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon. This is a wonderful book, beautifully crafted, about the most important and overarching challenge facing us, as a global community, today. You won't be sorry. Get to Know Us. Delivery and Returns see our delivery rates and policies thinking of returning an item? See our Returns Policy. Visit our Help Pages. One account by Gallo-Roman historian Saint Gregory of Tours mentions a boy so religious that he primarily drank water , like many devout at the time. Gregory also mentions a traveler in the sixth century who asked a villager for water.
In another story, there were telltale marks where a hermit had knelt to drink from a river. Sometimes water was mixed with wine or sweeteners like honey, and a 14th century monk once listed water as a beverage preferred over beer.
Flint crisis, four years on: what little trust is left continues to wash away
Water, it seems, was on everyone's lips [source: Water also was free and clean. Whether from a well or fresh stream, it was the centerpiece of villages. In larger towns there were even infrastructures to supply water to citizens. In , construction of a system of pipes began in London. It was designed to move water from a fresh spring to a pumping house that would, in turn, make fresh water available at cisterns throughout the city.