The Flint, Michigan Water Crisis caused a public health crisis that began in 2014 and ended in 2019. The drinking water for the city of Flint was contaminated with lead and Legionnaires’ disease.
In April 2014, Flint changed its water source from treated Detroit Water and Sewage Department water to the Flint River. Corrosion inhibitors were not applied to the water, as officials failed to do it. The result was lead from aging pipes invaded the water supply resulting in extremely high levels of the heavy metal neurotoxin and dirty water, exposing over 100,000 residents to elevated lead levels.
Two scientific studies showed that lead contamination was in the city’s water supply. The city switched back to the Detroit water system in October of 2015 and later signed a 30-year contract with the new Great Lakes Water Authority on November 22, 2017.
In January 2016, a state of emergency was declared by then-governor Rick Snyder in Genesee County, Flint’s major population center. Then-president Barack Obama declared a federal state of emergency shortly thereafter, authorizing additional help from the Department of Homeland Security Federal and the Emergency Management Agency.
There were between 6,000 and 12,000 children exposed to the high levels of lead in the drinking water. On January 13, 2016, it was reported that 87 cases of Legionnaires’ disease, which is a waterborne disease, were reported in Genesse County (where the city of Flint is located) from June 2014 to November 2015, which resulted in 12 deaths at that time. Two more additional deaths were reported from the disease later.
Although there is no evidence of a clear link, the water supply change was considered a possible cause of the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the county.
A second report released states that researchers had still not determined the source of the outbreak of Legionnaires’. An official at McLaren Regional Medical Center confirmed that even though there was a spike in the number of cases, there was no definitive data to support that the medical center was the source of exposure to any patient testing positive for Legionnaires’. The family of one of the individuals who died from the disease filed a $100 million lawsuit against McLaren Regional Medical Center.
The effects on the health of the residents of the area were significant. Seniors needing elder care, older senior men needing the mens clinic, and even some unfortunate families experiencing pet loss resulted from the City officials’ negligence. Illness and death were an awful result of this episode. Because of the illnesses and deaths of so many people, flowers and florists businesses were flourishing at this time.
Tragically, there were several hundred pregnancies that resulted in stillborn babies.
A personal injury lawyer filed lawsuits against state and local authorities, but only one minor conviction has been obtained. In January of 2021, former-Governor Snyder and eight other officials were charged with 34 felony counts and seven misdemeanor charges, resulting in 41 counts total, for their involvement in the crisis. Two officials were then charged with involuntary manslaughter.
The event also caused the resignation of four government officials – one from the City of Flint, two from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), and one from the Environment Protection Agency (EPA). They resigned over the mishandling of the crisis, and it resulted in the termination of one MDEQ staff member. The statute of limitations on felony misconduct-in-office charges expired in April 2020.
Corinne Miller, a former director with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges in the Flint water crisis. As part of the plea deal, the former director retired from the department in 2016, is required to cooperate with the investigation of the Michigan Attorney General’s Office into the water crisis and provide them with truthful testimony.
The plea agreement included references to “suspect 1” and “suspect 2″. It states that Ms. Miller was asked in January of 2015 to provide a report about the outbreak of Legionnaires” disease in the Flint area after the city changed its water from the Lake Huron water supply to the Flint River water supply. She had given both people information about the change according to court documents, but the officials have not disclosed the identifies of the two other people involved.
In the end, of the 15 people facing charges, Corrine Miller was the only person convicted of a crime and received a year of probation, 300 hours of community service, along with a fine of $1,200. The other officials, former city and state employees that were facing conviction in connection with their part in the Flint water crisis is as follows:
• Rick Snyder, the former governor of Michigan: charged with two counts of willful neglect of duty, resulting in a one-year misdemeanor charge for each and a $1,000 fine.
• Nick Lyon, the former director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services: He received nine counts of manslaughter, involuntary, each resulting in a 15-year charge for a felony and a $7,500 fine. He also received one count of willful neglect of duty, resulting in a misdemeanor charge of one-year and a $1,000 fine.
• Eden Wells, the former Chief Medical Executive for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services: She received nine counts of involuntary manslaughter. Each charge resulted in a 15-year felony each and a $7,500 fine. Two counts of misconduct in office, resulted in a five-year felony each and a $10,000 fine. One count of willful neglect of duty, a one-year misdemeanor charge, and a $1,000 fine.
• Darnell Earley, the former Manager of Emergency in Flint: Received three counts of misconduct in office, resulted in each receiving a five-year felony charge and a $10,000 fine.
• Gerald Ambrose, the former Flint Emergency Manager: Misconduct charges, four counts, while in office, each resulting in a five-year felony charge along with a $10,000 fine.
• Jarrod Agen, the former Director of Communications and Former Chief of Staff under former Governor Rick Snyder: One count of perjury, a 15-year felony charge, the result.
• Richard Baird, the former Transformation Manager and Senior Advisor to Former Governor Rick Snyder. One count of perjury resulting in a 15-year felony charge. One count of official misconduct in office, a five-year felony charge, and a $10,000 fine resulted. One count of obstruction of justice, a five-year felony charge, and a $10,000 fine was the result. One count of extortion, a 20-year felony charge, was the result, with a $10,000 fine.
• Nancy Peeler, the current manager of Early Childhood Health Section at the Department of Health and Human Services in Michigan: Two charges of misconduct in office, each receiving a five-year felony, with a $10,000 fine. One count of willful neglect of duty, a one-year misdemeanor charge, and a $10,000 fine.
• Howard Croft, the former Director of Flint’s Department of Public Works: Two counts of neglect of duty, each one receiving a misdemeanor charge of one-year and a fine of $1,000.
According to a tv documentary, since 2016, an extensive replacement of lead service pipe effort has been underway, with state-of-the-art techniques such as “machine learning” to determine the number and location of lead pipes.
Some officials claimed that the water quality had returned to acceptable levels in early 2017. Still, in January 2019, some residents and officials expressed doubt about the water’s cleanliness. As of April 2019, there were an estimated 2,500 lead service pipes still in use.
There were 26,232 water service lines excavated as of October 2, 2020. This resulted in the replacement of 9,769 lead pipes with a confirmed 16,463 copper pipes. Fewer than 500 service lines still need to be inspected and replaced as of December 8, 2020. Their goal had been to finish the replacement by the end of 2020.
A combined settlement of $600 million was awarded to the water crisis victims, with 80% going to the families of the children affected by the crisis. The compensation rose to $641 million by November.
There was an effort by some notable people to help in the support and relief effort in Flint.
A Flint native, Tom Gores, the Chairman and CEO of Platinum Equity and owner of the Detroit Pistons, in 2016 began a campaign to raise $10 million to deploy operational resources of long- and short-term initiatives to address the crisis. The programs, called FlintNOW, were focused on economic development, health care, and nutrition of the residents of the city.
Mr. Gores felt that the issues facing the city would not be solved only through government intervention and emergency support. He felt the private sector needed to be involved, and he became committed to helping drive the effort in that direction. Business owners such as a franchise law firm, restaurants, bars, retailers, and even an exterminator service, were called upon to assist in the effort.
Mr. Gores pledged both financial and intellectual capital directed at the effort. He appointed the Pistons vice chairman and a Platinum equity partner to lead the internal task force. The focus was to rally support from civic leaders and business owners to identify needs and ensure that the capital was distributed where the need was the greatest.
The campaign of Mr. Gores was focused on three major priorities.
• Immediate support for short-term efforts to ensure access to safe drinking water, development of volunteer programs, distribution of resources, and other logistics.
• Funding for programs geared toward children, which included healthy food and nutrition campaigns, in addition to education and healthcare initiatives.
• Long-term support for economic development and the revitalization of Flint and the surrounding communities.
In January 2015, a public meeting was held where citizens complained about the taste, smell, and appearance of the water for the last 18 months before a Flint doctor found elevated blood lead levels in some children in the Flint area. During that time, MDEQ insisted that the water was safe to drink. A study had revealed that river water, due to a higher concentration of chloride, is more corrosive than lake water, which was spewing lead from the aging pipes.
An environmental toxicologist based in Ann Arbor, Mozhgan Savabieafahani, stated that this lead exposure level is comparable to what the Iraqi people have been exposed to since 2003, since the U.S. occupation.
Local outcry regarding the quality of Flint water continued to grow in early 2015. Flint water officials filed papers with the state to show that the “tests at Flint’s water treatment plant had detected no lead. Testing in homes in the area registered lead at acceptable levels. The documents falsely claim that the city had tested tap water from homes with lead service lines, therefore the highest levels of lead poisoning existed.
However, the city did not know the locations of those lead service lines, city officials claimed in November 2015. It was reported that the city had disregarded federal rules, which required it to seek out homes with lead plumbing for testing, leading the city and state to underestimate for many months the extent of the lead getting into Flint’s tap water.
In a report released in March 2016, 37 of the 423 tested sites had results above the 15 ppb (parts per billion) limit. Eight of the samples tested exceeded the 100 ppb limit. It was then that many concerned citizens chose to acquire testing kits and conduct their own testing to ensure the safety of their water. As of February 21, 2019, 79 lawsuits have been filed regarding the Flint Michigan Water Crisis.
In 2021, new criminal charges were filed against the former governor and other officials by the State of Michigan for their roles in the crisis. The charges stem from the decision to change the water supply from the Detroit water system to the Flint River water supply without considering the potential impact on the citizens’ health.
Currently, Flint’s water supply continues to test the same as good as or better than similar cities across Michigan and the country. Years have passed since the crisis, and the water quality in most areas is safe to drink, many people at afraid to drink it. As a result, bottled water is still in tremendous demand.