What We Can Learn From The Flint Water Crisis
Flint, Michigan is notorious for the water crisis that started in 2014. The city changed its water source to the Flint River to save money, but they did not adequately test the water or add corrosion controls to ensure people’s safety. The health of Flint residents, including children, was put at high risk. What happened in the city of Flint is not a unique case or isolated issue. Clean drinking water should be a fundamental right for everyone, but globally, 1 in 3 people do not have access to safe drinking water.
What happened in Flint, Michigan?
Flint, Michigan is notorious for the water crisis that started in 2014. The city changed its water source to the Flint River to save money, but they did not adequately test the water or add corrosion controls to ensure people’s safety. The health of Flint residents, including children, was put at high risk.
Residents protested the contaminated water by citing their skin rashes and elevated blood lead levels as evidence. Their complaints were dismissed. Eventually, citizens of Flint took a case against their local government to federal court. The federal judge ruled in favor of the citizens in 2016, and the solution was to provide residents with bottled water while the city replaced lead pipes and tested drinking water.
What happened in the city of Flint is not a unique case or isolated issue. Clean drinking water should be a fundamental right for everyone, but globally, 1 in 3 people do not have access to safe drinking water. In the US, almost a third of water systems report lead in pipes. Even a small exposure to lead has negative health effects, especially for children. This crisis is not over by a longshot.
How does conserving water help?
It is imperative for the health of all people and the planet to protect our natural resources. Conserving water and protecting water-related ecosystems, such as mountains, forests, lakes, rivers, and wetlands will ensure a future where clean water is possible. Although the earth is 71% water, only 0.5% of that water is accessible and suitable to drink. Refrain from pouring medications or chemicals down the drain, and reuse greywater for household chores to reduce water contamination. Take shorter showers and turn off the sink when you brush your teeth to conserve water. You can also collect water in a bucket when it rains or wait until the dishwasher or laundry machine is full to wash your dishes and clothes.
How is contaminated drinking water related to sustainability?
Although Flint water now passes federal standards, residents are understandably wary to fully trust the government. Thus, residents use bottled water more often than not, which is not sustainable. Local governments should not choose money over the wellbeing and safety of people. Since 1980, the city of Flint has been on economic decline. By 2011, the city was in so much debt that the state of Michigan took control of budget cuts. In 2013, amidst the budget cuts, the government decided to stop giving Flint residents safe, treated drinking water to save money. The government opted for corrosive water from the Flint River, which led to the contamination. The three sectors of sustainability involve people, profit, and the planet. Creating more jobs to build infrastructure for safer water or starting educational programs about water conservation are actions the local government could have taken to protect both people and the planet while stimulating the economy.
Who was affected by the crisis?
The Flint water crisis is an issue of environmental injustice. The residents of Flint should have been taken seriously when they voiced their concerns about contaminated water. A large aspect of the injustice is that local officials in Flint were not members of the community. People need to have a say in the policies that will directly affect them. The crisis in Flint is a striking example of injustice because 42% of residents are living below the poverty line and 57% of residents are black. This begs an uncomfortable question: would a crisis of this magnitude have been allowed to happen if the demographics had been different?