Thursday, Aug 24, 2017
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FEATURED EDITORIAL

Flint’s water scandal

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Acidic Flint River water was corroding ancient lead pipes, many of which are in the city’s poorest areas. The water quality led to protests in Flint.

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The past few decades have been hard on the once-prosperous blue-collar city of Flint, Mich. For many years, Flint was essentially a General Motors company town. Then came the downsizing of the American auto industry. 

Imagine if Toledo were almost entirely dependent on Jeep jobs, and then more than four-fifths of those jobs vanished. That’s what happened to Flint. Unable to pay its bills, Flint’s government ended up being taken over by a succession of emergency managers appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder. 

Last year, to save money, one of those managers switched Flint’s source of drinking water from Detroit’s water system to the Flint River, despite warnings that it might not be safe. What followed was a nightmare that got steadily worse: The water looked, smelled, and tasted bad, and was found to contain unacceptable levels of bacteria. 

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Last September, research scientists from Virginia Tech discovered dangerously high levels of lead in Flint’s water. State officials denied their findings, and suppressed and manipulated evidence. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality claimed the water was safe to drink, and advised anyone who was worried to “relax.” 

The acidic Flint River water was corroding ancient lead pipes, many of which are in the city’s poorest areas. The state claimed corrosion-control chemicals were being added to the water — which turned out to be a lie. 

Finally, thanks to a whistle-blowing U.S. Environmental Protection Agency employee, a freelance investigative reporter, and a courageous pediatrician who risked her job to insist that Flint’s babies were being poisoned, the truth came out. The state grudgingly found money in October to reconnect Flint to safe Detroit water

 Incredibly, though, nobody has admitted blame and nobody has been fired. Governor Snyder, who has a tendency to treat human concerns like numbers on a spreadsheet, has consistently acted as if the poisoning of Flint’s water were more a public relations problem than a human crisis. 

Flint officials are correctly calling for the appointment of a state water-crisis czar to coordinate efforts to mitigate the effects of a disaster that is the Snyder administration’s responsibility. Finally, this week, Mr. Snyder “accepted the resignation” of his environmental quality director, Dan Wyant, whose office led the cover-up. 

Mr. Wyant should have been fired months ago — along with his media spokesman, who arrogantly dismissed the concerns of Flint citizens who were worried about lead poisoning (he also quit this week). Last November, city voters showed their feelings by tossing out a mayor who had supported the water switch. 

Governor Snyder, who narrowly won re-election last year, now needs to do everything in his power to mitigate the effects of lead poisoning on hundreds of Flint children. He also must make amends to the entire community for a calamity that his appointees caused.

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