Following growing public outcry, and a year of inaction, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder on Thursday finally addressed Flint's public health crisis by calling for its water service to be reconnected to the Detroit system.
"Governor Snyder’s announcement confirmed what we already knew, that his emergency manager poisoned children and families in Flint. It should not have taken this long for the governor to admit that he was wrong and take action to fix the problem that he created," said Hugh Madden, communications director for Progress Michigan, in a statement released Thursday.
"The damage that the governor and the emergency manager have done in Flint doesn’t stop with the water switch," Madden continued. "The question now is, who is going to be held responsible for poisoning people in Flint and how are Snyder and our elected officials going to ensure that this doesn’t happen in other cities in Michigan?"
"The question now is, who is going to be held responsible for poisoning people in Flint?"
—Hugh Madden, Progress Michigan
Since the emergency manager switched the city's drinking water to the Flint River in April 2014, "it increased the amount of chemicals used to treat the water and failed to put in place the proper corrosion controls, resulting in water that contains high levels of TTHMs [total trihalomethanes], lead, copper and other heavy metals," explained Lynna Kaucheck, senior organizer for the Food & Water Watch, in a statement released Thursday.
"Soon after the switch, Flint residents began reporting water that was brown or greenish-blue and symptoms including hair loss and rashes," Kaucheck continued. "What’s even worse, this water came at a high price as water rates were among the highest in the country before a judge ordered a rate reduction. Sadly, the DEQ, Governor Snyder and Mayor Walling turned a blind eye and let this problem persist for months."
Researchers at Hurley Children's Hospital recently discovered that children living in two Flint zip codes have elevated levels of lead in their blood, prompting the state to begin distributing water filters to residents earlier this month.
Residents hailed the governor's pronouncement as a testament to local organizing, including the efforts of the community group Water You Fighting For. But in a city that's over 56 percent black, and plagued with poverty and unemployment, many expressed concern that the year of inaction will have lasting impact.
"Unfortunately," Kaucheck noted, "the switch may come too late for some Flint children who will suffer a lifetime of consequences from having been poisoned by the high levels of lead in Flint’s drinking water. We can only hope that Governor Snyder and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) learn from this tragedy and moving forward implement the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Lead and Copper Rule to it’s fullest extent."