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The Water Crisis in Flint, Michigan

The environmental injustice still affecting the city of Flint is a manifestation of the ecology of inequality and bad decision-making.

The water crisis began in 2014 when the city, in a “cost-saving move,” switched its drinking water supply from Detroit’s system to the Flint River—this option was projected to save the region $200 million over 25 years, according to City Council meeting minutes.

A sign on a chainlink fence reads City of Flint, Water Plant. Monday - Friday 7:00am to 4:00pm

Almost immediately, residents of Flint — a majority-black city where 40 percent of people live in poverty — started complaining that the water was foul-smelling, discolored, and off-tasting and was causing skin rashes, hair loss, and itchy skin. City and state officials denied for months that there was a serious problem.


By the time officials acknowledged the crisis and acted, supply pipes had sustained major corrosion and lead was leaching into the water. Even though the city switched back to its original water supply it was too late to reverse the damage to the pipes. Studies revealed that the contaminated water contributed to a doubling—and in some cases, tripling—of the incidence of elevated blood lead levels in the city’s children, imperiling the health of its youngest generation.

An elder woman wearing a coat and mittens frowns holding a sign saying: Justice looks like new pipes, local control, no water bill, state pays, criminal charges Snyder & DFQ, michigan Citizens for Water Conservation.
Religious leaders lead a march holding a banner saying: Rainbow Push Coalition, Rebuild Flint

The relentless efforts of the Flint community—with the support of doctors, scientists, journalists, and citizen activists—forced a reckoning over how such a scandal could have been allowed to happen. Michigan’s attorney general, Bill Schuette, brought criminal charges against nine state employees including staff in the drinking water and municipal assistance office who misled officials about Flint’s water treatment plant (which was not in compliance with lead and copper rules), and staff in the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ child health unit who suppressed a report that showed unsafe lead levels in the blood of Flint children.

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission, a state-established body, concluded that the poor governmental response to the Flint crisis was a “result of systemic racism.”

Which of Rev. Barber’s seven sins do you see at work

in the case of Flint, MI?

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