Pagel offers notes from Lansing

The Flint water crisis has drawn national attention to Michigan. It has been a failure at all levels of government — local, state and federal. Here is a broad overview of what has happened.

Talk of switching Flint water off the Detroit pipeline to a local source had been discussed in the city for years, as a cost-saving measure. In April 2013, Flint joined a new water authority to get water from Lake Huron rather than Detroit, but this pipeline was not yet constructed. A decision was made to use the Flint River as a temporary water source, and that started in April of 2014.

It should also be noted that Flint was under a state-appointed emergency manager at this time due to a financial crisis in the city. At this time, government officials began to make a series of mistakes. Proper corrosion controls were not put in place, and it was later found that Flint River water is far more corrosive than the Lake Huron supply from Detroit. When this corrosive water began to flow in lead piping and fixtures in buildings, trouble followed. By late February of 2015, two agencies in charge of water quality, the Department of Environmental Quality (a state agency) and the Environmental Protection Agency (a federal agency) were discussing tests that showed high levels of lead in the water.

At this point more mistakes were made, because officials within the DEQ and EPA were slow to respond to increasing data showing a lead problem in the water. It eventually took persistent work by non-government experts, including Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a doctor in Flint, and Marc Edwards, a professor at Virginia Tech, to convince DEQ and EPA officials that the problem was critical. The governor took action in October of 2015, with a 10-point plan that included the distribution of water filters and anti-corrosion treatments of the water supply. It was quickly decided to return the water supply to Detroit water, and the state provided $9.35 million for that purpose on Oct. 15. The water was switched on Oct. 16.

Since that time, the governor has asked for federal aid, and the state legislature has appropriated $28 million dollars of emergency aid for the city. This money will help the National Guard in distributing water, installing filters, providing for more testing of children for lead exposure, and will pay for school nurses to be available in case children begin to show signs of lead poisoning. Some funds were directed to support food bank efforts to provide Flint residents with healthier food options. The work to deal with this situation will likely continue for years to come as we monitor children’s health and provide for their needed medical treatments.

More anti-corrosive agents have been added to Flint’s water supply to stop the lead contamination. Lead levels in the water are already lowering significantly. It has been encouraging to witness donations of bottled water coming in from across the nation. Certain officials within the DEQ and the EPA have resigned, while others have been suspended.

It has been suggested that all the old lead pipes need to be quickly replaced. This problem exists in cities across the nation, and must be carefully addressed. After a lead problem arose in Washington D.C. several years ago, some pipes were quickly replaced without a proper plan, costing millions of dollars, and the lead levels actually rose as a result. The situation in Flint needs to be stabilized to the point where the water is safe, and then a longer-term plan can be put in place to properly replace pipes.

This crisis has been utilized by some people to make political points. There has been plenty of finger-pointing and blame-placing. From my perspective, Governor Snyder has been forthright in accepting his responsibility in the situation, and has moved forward aggressively to solve the problem. Anyone who watched his State of the State address could easily see his sincerity. We all deserve to know just how and where government let down the people of Flint, but in the short term we must concentrate on fixing the crisis.

If you wish to help the people of Flint, here are a couple reputable charities in Genesee County that are hard at work helping Flint residents. The United Way in Genesee County is at www.unitedwaygenesee.org, and the Community Foundation of Greater Flint is also recommended, located at www.cfgf.org.

As always, if you have any questions or just wish to share your thoughts on anything related to state government, my staff and I are glad to assist.

 

Rep. Dave Pagel’s office can be reached at (517) 373-1796, or davepagel@house.mi.gov.

 

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