The state of Michigan has decided to stop to providing free bottles of water to residents of Flint, less than a week after the state ignored Michiganders’ pleas and approved a permit to allow Nestlé to draw as many as 400 gallons of water per minute from a well less than an hour and a half away to be bottled for sale.
Governor Rick Snyder—who appointed unelected “emergency managers” for the city who ended its agreement to obtain water from Detroit to save money, which resulted in the lead poisoning of Flint residents—made the announcement on Friday, which the New York Times reported led to long lines outside of the distribution centers this weekend.
“For the past two years I have repeatedly been asked when I would declare the water safe in Flint and I have always said that no arbitrary decision would be made — that we would let the science take us to that conclusion,” Snyder said in a statement. “Since Flint’s water is now well within the standards set by the federal government, we will now focus even more of our efforts on continuing with the health, education and economic development assistance needed to help move Flint forward.”
Snyder’s health department head, Nick Lyon, was charged with involuntary manslaughter and misconduct of office last year for a death caused by Legionnaires’ disease, due to his alleged failure to inform the public that outbreaks of the disease could be related to the new water supply. Lyon still serves in that same role. Meanwhile, the Detroit Free Press reported earlier this year that 3rd grade reading proficiency in Flint had dropped nearly 75 percent from 2014 to 2017.
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said in a statement that she found out only “moments” before Snyder made the announcement.
“We did not cause the man-made water disaster, therefore adequate resources should continue being provided until the problem is fixed and all the lead and galvanized pipes have been replaced,” Weaver said in a statement. “I will be contacting the Governor’s office immediately to express the insensitivity of the decision he made today and to make sure he is aware of the additional needs that I have requested for the residents of Flint.”
Weaver stressed on Twitter that Flint’s water testing has improved.
While that may be true, it doesn’t tell the whole story, as the New York Times reported:
Although state officials said Flint’s water supply met federal standards, the water can still pick up lead when it flows through the thousands of lead or galvanized steel lines that remain in the city.
Flint is working with contractors to replace all of the affected lines by 2020. Just over 6,200 have been replaced so far, said Steve Branch, the acting city administrator. An estimated 12,000 could remain.
Flint officials and residents say the decision is too hasty.
“We have not received clear steps as to how the remaining lead in Flint schools will be remediated or how ongoing monitoring will continue for our most vulnerable populations,” Flint chief public health advisor Pamela Pugh said in a joint statement with Weaver. “Additionally, the medical community has continuously raised questions as to how special populations, including nursing and bottle-feeding mothers, will receive bottled water while massive pipe replacement work is ongoing.”
“It’s too quick,” Flint activist Melissa Mays told the Detroit Free Press. “They’re putting dollars and cents ahead of Flint residents, which is how we got here in the first place.”
Last year, the state ended water bill discounts for Flint residents, even though they couldn’t drink the water without an approved filter. Meanwhile, the cost of Nestlé’s new permit to drain more of Michigan’s groundwater was a whopping $200.