Once upon a time, my friend Lance Mannion wrote a post about politics and morality, in which he described how everything is political, even the ability, or lack thereof, to access clean water:
Americans have a habit of talking about politics as something apart from the normal doings of our lives. Kind of strange of us, considering that the normal doings of our lives are only possible because of politics. Turning on the tap to get a drink of water is a political act if only because the water flows and is relatively clean because of decisions made by politicians who owe their jobs to political decisions made by us.That post is ten years old, and I still think about it a lot. I thought about it again this morning, when I read about the city of Flint, Michigan, declaring a state of emergency because its water supply, serving 100,000 residents and commuters, is contaminated with lead.
The Flint authorities had switched the public water supply in April 2014 from Lake Huron to the Flint river. The river flows through the city but had not been used for consumption since the early 1960s because of industrial pollution.Lead is especially dangerous for children, but is harmful to adults, too. Its toxicity has been known for decades, and it is almost unfathomable that political leaders could be so colossally irresponsible, so callously indifferent, to delivering water tainted with lead to the people they were elected to serve.
After the switch, many residents immediately reported that the water coming out of their taps was yellowy, cloudy and odorous.People reported suddenly breaking out in rashes or losing their hair.
Public protests followed, but the authorities repeatedly said the water was safe, despite stepping up water treatment and occasionally issuing advice to residents to boil it.
But in October 2015, the city returned to its previous supplier, the city of Detroit, which treats water from Lake Huron then passes it on to Flint, 66 miles to the north-west.
By that time, experts at Virginia Tech university, called in by activists, had already issued an alarming report about lead levels in the river water, while a pediatrician at Flint's Hurley Medical Center hospital, Dr Mona Hanna-Attisha, had discovered elevated levels of lead in blood tests carried out on local children.
The water was so toxic that General Motors stopped using the Flint water at one of its engine plants six months after the switch "because it was rusting the machinery."
Flint-based attorney Tracelle Young, who is assisting residents trying to organize a class action lawsuit, says: "The whole city used that water supply."
Young said the city took almost a year to acknowledge publicly that there was a problem with the water.Young suggests that the catastrophic failure to protect the people of Flint should result in a federal investigation, resignations, and possibly criminal charges. I hasten to agree.
"The city and state knew. And we believe they knew before they made the switch from Detroit water to the Flint river that the water was no good," she said.
...Julie Hurwitz, another lawyer working on the lawsuit, said that city and state authorities had repeatedly scoffed at Flint residents and worried parents who complained that the water was making them and their children ill, only now to see the city declare an emergency.
She accused the authorities of a cover-up, having known that the water was dangerous.
Naturally, people in poverty have been the worst affected, as they could not afford, as some more affluent residents, to purchase bottled water to use in lieu of the evidently contaminated water.
You may recall that, last year, the city of Detroit made international news because of "the 'unprecedented scale' of water shut-offs taking place" in the city, because people could not afford to pay their water bills, leaving about 27,000 households without running water. A year on, at least 4,000 homes still have not had their water turned back on, and many of those residents rely on charity to provide bottled water, and/or collect rainwater.
This is all happening in Michigan, a Great Lakes state surrounded by the largest source of fresh water in the world.
The problem is not that there isn't water, even clean water. The problem is that there isn't the political will to ensure that the people of Flint and Detroit have access to it, nor the decency to prioritize human lives over money.