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Monday, January 25, 2016

More on the "Upstream." Lead in the water supply. has a compelling analytical commentary up on the Flint, Michigan water contamination travesty.
...For those of you who haven’t heard of it yet, the Flint water crisis refers to the ongoing contamination of the tap water in Flint, MI with unacceptably high levels of lead that resulted from change in its water supply nearly two years ago to Flint River water. Because river water is more corrosive than the previous supply that came from Lake Huron (why I’ll explain later) and Flint river water was not properly treated to decrease that corrosiveness, the new water leached lead from old pipes. This resulted in the contamination of the drinking water with dangerous levels of lead in many homes in the city. In addition, there has been a marked increase in the number of cases of Legionnaires’ disease thought to be linked to the new water supply...
A lengthy, thorough piece on an egregious episode of criminal negligence and utter moral indifference perpetrated by Michigan government officials -- starting with Michigan Governor Rick Snyder.

My Photoshop reaction.

Health impacts of the "Upstream," anyone? More on the "Upstream" here as well.

Flint children never had a fair shot, even before lead poisoning

On one level, the Flint lead poisoning scandal is about a state mismanaging a city under financial duress and moving the city to a water supply that turned out to be unsafe.

But on another level, it's also about something deeper: the vulnerabilities kids face when they grow up in poverty. They are more likely to have lower test scores, become teen mothers, and experience violent crime. And it's not just a lack of opportunity: A recent study found that the stresses of poverty actually stunt brain development.

Add to that lead poisoning — which also stunts growing brains — and that's what you have in Flint, Michigan...
Could What Happened in Flint Happen Anywhere?
Other U.S. cities, particularly in the Northeast and Midwest, could face the same water crisis because millions of utility lines contain lead, a potent poison.

Flint’s crisis with drinking water contamination has been cast as a unique series of fumbles and cover-ups. But the Michigan city’s plight also illustrates a much wider concern: Millions of Americans drink water that flows through lead pipes, fittings, and solder, most installed before the 1970s.

Lead pipes can be found in much of the U.S., but surveys show they are concentrated in the Northeast and Midwest. Nobody really knows how extensive they are today: A 1990 study estimated that 3.3 million utility service lines contain lead—plus twice as many connecting pipes, and countless amounts of lead solder. In addition, many homes have plumbing that contains the hazardous metal.

If utilities don’t carefully balance water chemistry and treatment methods, and if regulators don’t enforce the rules, lead can leach from utility pipes and household plumbing systems and wind up in people’s water. That’s what happened in Flint. A decade ago, it happened in Washington, D.C., too. About 640,000 District of Columbia residents were exposed to lead when changes in disinfection chemicals allowed lead to leach from pipelines.

And health experts warn that the same crisis could happen again elsewhere, especially as local and state public health budgets shrink...
Does The EPA Bear Responsibility For Flint?

A blame game has erupted over the lead-ridden drinking water in Flint, Michigan. For weeks, residents, politicians, and observers across the country have been asking: Who is responsible for this public health catastrophe?

Politically, blame is polarized. Progressives have taken aim at Michigan’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder, who they say failed to recognize through his state environmental agency that Flint’s water was unsafe. Meanwhile, some conservatives have targeted the Democratic emergency manager of Flint, who they say was ultimately responsible for switching the city’s water supply to the highly suspect Flint River.

The most controversial culprit, however, is the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Long before the crisis erupted, an EPA employee sounded the alarm about a serious lead problem in Flint’s drinking water system. But his higher-ups declined to make that information public, and instead tried behind the scenes to get the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to take action to solve the problem.

Now, many insist the the EPA should have gone public with what it knew. “With a clear mission to protect human health and the environment, the EPA must be held to the same standard of accountability as state agencies,” the Detroit News wrote in a scathing editorial last week. Indeed, it seemed perplexing that the EPA would sit on troubling information about a potentially poisoned water system in a city of nearly 100,000 people. Why on earth would the EPA do that?...
[T]he nightmare in Flint reflects the resurgence in American politics of exactly the same attitudes that led to London’s Great Stink more than a century and a half ago. - Paul Krugman, Michigan's Great Stink
Flint, Michigan's water crisis: what the national media got wrong

...Who's really responsible for the Flint water crisis

Many national media reports would have you believe that the crisis began in April 2014, when the city started drawing its water from the Flint River. They'd also have you believe that the crisis was the fault of the locally elected officials who made a catastrophic decision, not to mention city residents who did not hold their leaders accountable.

The stage was set on March 16, 2011, when Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed Public Act 4. This measure broadened an earlier law that provided an "emergency financial manager" for financially distressed cities and school districts. Under the new law, "emergency financial managers" became "emergency managers" with the power to cancel or renegotiate city contracts, liquidate assets, suspend local government, unilaterally draft policy, and even disincorporate. (It is worth noting that Michigan emergency managers have done all of these things except disincorporate, which was entertained by a manager in the city of Pontiac.)

The need for an emergency manager was determined by a series of highly subjective criteria. Almost every city that got one was a poor, African-American-majority city devastated by a shrinking industrial sector: Flint, Pontiac, Detroit, Highland Park, Benton Harbor, and so on.

Flint was one of the first cities to be assigned an emergency manager in 2011, and over the course of four years had four such managers.  One of the first manager's first acts was to suspend local government, and this remained essentially in force until the departure of the last emergency manager in 2015. Even today, Flint is under the scrutiny of a "transition advisory board" that has veto power over any local decision, and that has frequently overstepped its professed limited mandate to assure fiscal restraint.

Many Michiganders found Public Act 4 to be a violation of a strong state tradition of "home rule," and so overturned it by referendum in the 2012 election. But that didn't last long: the Republican-dominated state legislature immediately passed Public Act 436, which was almost identical, although it included a provision to pay the emergency managers from state coffers rather than local. Under Michigan law, a bill that includes an appropriation like this cannot be voided through referendum.

Some emergency managers, true, delegated limited responsibilities to the mayor or to members of the city council, but they always retained (and used) their powers to void any decision with which they disagreed. This is the key point that early coverage by flagship newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post neglected to mention: From 2011 to 2015, Flint officials had no real control over municipal policy...

The Next Flint
The communities most susceptible to calamitous infrastructure failures are marginalized places inhabited by marginalized people. And many of them are suburbs.

hen Rohan Hepkins, the mayor of Yeadon, Pennsylvania, heard about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, he sensed a pang he’s known for a while. “I just felt like, here we go again. That’s what happens to the disenfranchised.”

It’s also what could happen to older communities with aging infrastructure and declining tax revenues. No community can avoid the fact that America’s water infrastructure could require an investment of $1 trillion or more over the next 25 years. Some places, however, are more susceptible to crisis than others. An unholy brew of circumstances created the tragedy in Michigan—in which a money-saving decision to switch water supplies corroded the coating in Flint’s aging pipes, contaminating the supply with lead—yet similar circumstances afflict marginalized municipalities populated by marginalized people across the nation. Some of the most vulnerable communities are small post-industrial cities, like Flint. But the next infrastructure crisis is just as likely to occur in an aging, inner-ring, mostly black or Latino suburb.

“The post–World War II suburbs are starting to sag, because they were not meant to last this long,” says Myron Orfield, director of the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity at the University of Minnesota Law School. “The housing is rotten, the infrastructure is rotten. But it is the nonwhite suburbs that are the poorest places in metro America, with the smallest tax bases. There are thousands of them, and they are all going to have Flint problems all over the country”...
What a mess.
There are roughly 7.3 million lead service lines in the U.S., according to an estimate by the Environmental Protection Agency, down from 10.5 million in 1988. Service lines are the pipes connecting water mains to people's houses. They're mostly found in the Midwest and Northeast.

Despite the life-altering consequences of lead poisoning, there is no national plan to get rid of those pipes. A top reason for continuing to use lead service lines instead of immediately digging them up is that utilities can treat water so it forms a coating on the interior of the pipes -- a corrosion barrier that helps prevent lead particles from dislodging and traveling to your faucet. But if the water chemistry changes, the corrosion controls can fail.

Documentary filmmaker and Flint MI native Michael Moore is not amused.

Amid denials, state workers in Flint got clean water

LANSING -- In January of 2015, when state officials were telling worried Flint residents their water was safe to drink, they also were arranging for coolers of purified water in Flint's State Office Building so employees wouldn't have to drink from the taps, according to state government e-mails released Thursday by the liberal group Progress Michigan.

A Jan. 7, 2015, notice from the state Department of Technology, Management and Budget, which oversees state office buildings, references a notice about a violation of drinking water standards that had recently been sent out by the City of Flint...

State officials could not immediately answer e-mailed questions about the water purchases, including how long the state continued to buy bottled water for state employees in Flint while telling Flint residents the water was safe to drink. An official said the administration was "looking into these issues."

Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan, said it appears the state was not as slow as initially thought in responding to the Flint drinking water crisis.

“Sadly, the only response was to protect the Snyder administration from future liability and not to protect the children of Flint,” Scott said. “While residents were being told to relax and not worry about the water, the Snyder administration was taking steps to limit exposure in its own building”...

More to come...

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