Article courtesy of WSWS | April 1, 2015 | WSWS | Shared as educational material
In the past year, residents of Flint, Michigan, 60 miles north of Detroit, have been subjected to a deepening water crisis. In March 2014, the city’s unelected emergency manager severed Flint’s ties to the Detroit water system, and the city began drawing water from the heavily polluted Flint River that reportedly costs less.
Water quality drastically deteriorated after the switch. Evidence of fecal coliform bacteria—also known as E.coli—was discovered in the water supply within the first five months. The city attempted to deal with the bacteria using chlorine, resulting in excessive amounts of trihalomethane (TTHM), a chemical known to cause liver, kidney and nerve damage, as well as increased rates of cancer.
Residents say that bathing in the water causes rashes and even using it to wash dishes and flush toilets is corroding their pipes. In fact, the water is so corrosive that General Motors—which has long economically dominated the city—disconnected from the Flint water system to draw from another system.
Flint, like nearby Detroit, is a historic center of the auto industry and has been devastated by deindustrialization and antidemocratic rule by emergency managers. The city is now under its fourth emergency manager, Jerry Ambrose, who has ruled out reconnecting to the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department pipeline that was built between the two cities when the auto industry was in its heyday.
City officials have instead partnered with the Karegnondi Water Authority on a pipeline project to tap directly into Lake Huron, one of the five Great Lakes. This project is not slated for completion until late 2016, leaving residents with a compromised water supply.
Emergency manager Ambrose insists the water is safe to drink and that residents should simply ignore the “aesthetic” problems of the foul taste and smell and its corrosive effect on pipes and sinks. A report issued last week by the city’s water department declared that quality was improving and that residents had nothing to worry about—despite acknowledging in the same report that the city’s water supply remains above the state’s allowable annual level for TTHM.
A World Socialist Web Site reporting team found that Flint residents were overwhelmingly distrustful of the official statements and upset over the deplorable quality of the water and other basic social conditions. Residents responded strongly to the insistence of WSWS correspondents that safe drinking water was a social right, not a luxury to be given or taken away by the ruling class.
Atherton High School students Samantha and Joe said they couldn’t drink the water at their school. “We have to buy bottled water from the vending machines,” Samantha stated. “You can smell it in the water fountains, and see the cloudiness if you put it in a glass. The water is foggy and doesn’t taste right.
“They [the government officials] don’t care,” she added. “They don’t care about the people of Flint—all they care about are the rich.
“You see so many people on the streets, homeless or wandering,” noted Samantha. “There’s so much we could fix, but it doesn’t get fixed. The roads are terrible too. You have to swerve to avoid huge potholes. There’s stories of bus drivers crashing their school buses because they were trying to avoid those potholes.”
Sandra Wilson, 50, is a lifelong resident of Flint who is taking care of her 70-year-old mother. “Between me and my mom, we have spent about $200 over the past few months to buy cases of bottled water. I’m afraid to cook with the city water,” she explained. “It turns our pots and pans brown. We can’t drink it.
“The water bills are rising. I am trying to pay down a $355 water bill. We shouldn’t have to pay for it until it is safe to drink,” Sandra said. “Since they switched, they should give a steep discount.”
WSWS reporters asked Sandra how Flint has changed during her lifetime. “I can’t even drive down the street without wanting to cry. The city can’t even fix up all these boarded up houses. There are homeless people everywhere, and there are no programs to help them get back on their feet. They should be given places to live. There are no drug treatment programs.
“I think we should take all the money that the rich are spending on their yachts and spend it on helping people,” Sandra commented. “Martin Luther King said, ‘An injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere.’ This situation is an injustice. It is not the land of the free in America.”