Flint water crisis

The Flint water crisis was a public health crisis that started in 2014 and lasted until 2019,[1] after the drinking water for the city of Flint, Michigan was contaminated with lead and possibly Legionella bacteria.[2] In April 2014, during a budget crisis, Flint changed its water source from treated Detroit Water and Sewerage Department water (sourced from Lake Huron and the Detroit River) to the Flint River. Residents complained about the taste, smell, and appearance of the water. Officials failed to apply corrosion inhibitors to the water, which resulted in lead from aging pipes leaching into the water supply, exposing around 100,000 residents to elevated lead levels.[6] A pair of scientific studies confirmed that lead contamination was present in the water supply.[7][8] The city switched back to the Detroit water system on October 16, 2015.[9] It later signed a 30-year contract with the new Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) on November 22, 2017.[10]

Flint water crisis
TimeApril 25, 2014 – February 18, 2019 (2014-04-25 2019-02-18)[1][2]
Duration2014–ongoing
LocationFlint, Michigan, United States
Coordinates43°0′36″N 83°41′24″W
Type
Outcome
  • 6,000–12,000 children exposed to lead[3]
  • Public health state of emergency
  • 79 lawsuits[4]
  • Several investigations
  • 4 resignations
  • 4 firings
  • 5 suspensions
  • 15 indicted
  • 1 found guilty
Accused15 face charges
Convicted1 – Corinne Miller
SentenceCorinne Miller – a year of probation, 300 hours of community service, and fine of $1,200.[5]

On January 5, 2016, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency in Genesee County, of which Flint is the major population center. Shortly thereafter, President Barack Obama declared a federal state of emergency, authorizing additional help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.[11]

Between 6,000 and 12,000 children were exposed to drinking water with high levels of lead.[3] Children are particularly at risk from the long-term effects of lead poisoning, which can include a reduction in intellectual functioning and IQ, and an increased chance of Alzheimer's disease. The water supply change was considered a possible cause of an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in the county that killed 12 people and affected another 87, but the original source of the bacteria was never found.[12][13][14]

Four government officials—one from the city of Flint, two from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), and one from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—resigned over the mishandling of the crisis, and one additional MDEQ staff member was fired. In January 2021, former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and eight other officials were charged with 34 felony counts and seven misdemeanors—41 counts in all—for their role in the crisis.[15] Two officials were charged with involuntary manslaughter.[16] Fifteen criminal cases have been filed against local and state officials,[17] but only one minor conviction has been obtained, and all other charges have been dismissed or dropped. On August 20, 2020, the victims of the water crisis were awarded a combined settlement of $600 million, with 80% going to the families of children affected by the crisis.[18] By November, the settlement grew to $641 million.[19]

An extensive lead service pipe replacement effort has been underway since 2016, with innovative techniques such as machine learning used to predict the number and location of lead pipes.[20] In early 2017, some officials asserted that the water quality had returned to acceptable levels, but in January 2019, residents and officials expressed doubt about the cleanliness of the water.[21][22][23] There were an estimated 2,500 lead service pipes still in place as of April 2019.[24] As of December 8, 2020, fewer than 500 service lines still needed to be inspected.[25] As of July 16, 2021, 27,133 water service lines had been excavated and inspected, resulting in the replacement of 10,059 lead pipes.[26]


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