by Félix Pérez
It’s been two years since Flint, MI, leaped into the national news when it was revealed that its residents had been exposed to toxic levels of lead in the town’s water supply because of the ineptitude and disregard of state officials, all the way up to Gov. Rick Snyder. On Wednesday, Republicans in Congress added insult to injury by refusing to include in a temporary funding bill keeping the federal government open help for the 100,000 people in Flint who still cannot drink water from their tap.
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House Democrats, who had refused to pass the funding bill without Flint aid, relented after a last-minute agreement was reached among House leaders to include help for the beleaguered city in a water infrastructure bill that is expected to pass Congress when it returns in mid-November. The short-term funding bill was passed by the Senate, 72-26, and hours later by the House, 342-85.
The National Education Association, as part of a coalition of 86 civil and human rights, faith, and environmental groups representing tens of millions of individuals, helped keep the pressure on Congress. In a joint letter to the House, the groups wrote:
We are deeply concerned that the people of Flint, Michigan, have been waiting for more than a year for emergency assistance. They require immediate aid, and further delays are unacceptable as a matter of basic decency and fairness. Tens of thousands of people in Michigan have been harmed by this crisis, and they continue to struggle to provide clean drinking water for their families. So far, 10,000 children of Flint will suffer from lead poisoning because of this disaster. These children deserve environmental justice, and they deserve clean drinking water. It is absolutely astonishing that in the greatest nation in the world, one with so many resources, the people of Flint continue to lack the most essential of needs—clean drinking water.
In its letter to Congress, NEA said “it is simply wrong to simultaneously ignore the residents of Flint, Michigan, who have suffered for nearly 2 years. . . Clean water is a right, not a privilege. Students and families in Flint are owed the peace of mind that the water in their homes and schools is not exposing them to potentially devastating health problems.”
Flint’s water poisoning began April 2014, when the city’s then-emergency manager, appointed by Snyder, switched the city’s water supply source to save money. That decision was exacerbated by the manager’s failure to use corrosion treatment, resulting in lead, e-coli, coliform and trihalomethanes, which can cause liver and kidney disease, to leach into the water.
Prolonged exposure to lead, a neurotoxin, is particularly harmful to young children. Officials estimate that 9,000 Flint children ages six and younger have lead poisoning. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Even small amounts of lead can cause serious health problems. Children under the age of six are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning, which can severely affect mental and physical development.
Residents, who complained of rashes, headaches, hair loss and stomach ailments from the discolored, malodorous and bad-tasting water for more than a year, were continually assured by state officials that the water was safe. By the time Snyder declared a health emergency in January 2016, Flint’s residents had been drinking, cooking and bathing in Flint River water for 18 months.
Hear Flint educators and a parent discuss how the water crisis has affected children and how they place responsibility on Gov. Snyder: