By Sonia Abdulbaki
I recently wrote an article on the DC EcoWomen blog regarding the global concern of water shortage. I quote myself saying, “Luckily for us, water is a luxury available with a turn of a faucet.” Suffice to stay, I stand corrected, and have the account of the 100,000 Flint, Michigan residents to back up my claim.
You also might be wondering, where is Erin Brockovich when you need her? Well, she was right there, raising awareness on several cases of water contamination, including the recent water pollution crisis in Flint. She also brought it to the attention of President Obama, who then declared the issue a state of emergency.
According to MLive, on January 18, 2016 about 100 protesters in Ann Arbor called for the arrest of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder over the state’s handling of the lead poisoning of Flint residents. Snyder lives in Ann Arbor.
The gist of it
Before the President had a hand in the matter, Flint’s mayor, Karen Weaver, declared a state of emergency in December 2015. What started two years ago as a pursuit to supply water independent of Detroit to save money transpired into a water pollution crisis.
Lead from the old pipes seeped into the Flint River and citizens knew that if the water looked, smelled and tasted wrong, then something was wrong. Although the move to locally sourced water was planned as a temporary one, its expiration date came earlier than anticipated.
The event was accompanied by longer lasting effects, including the rising lead levels shown in children’s blood tests. Increased levels of lead can result in behavioral changes and negatively influence neurological development. Brockovich pleaded for action, with claims that the legionnaire’s disease was another outcome of the crisis.
Once the news was out, the city turned back to Detroit’s water system to put things back on track. Regardless, officials responded slowly. Accountability, as well as the damage that remained, needed to be acknowledged.
Flint’s mayor set out to replace the pipes with a $55 million plan. Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder, turned to the National Guard for help in giving Flint citizens clean water. The time it will take to achieve this goal is unknown. President Obama aided with $5 million and authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to cover 75% of water related costs.
In the meantime, residents were taking action, obtaining water through filters and bottles and more seriously, filing a class-action lawsuit against political officials. The crisis was reported to have lasted for months, yet lawsuits are claiming that the state knew about the contamination for about one year.
Lawsuits may address accountability but major concerns remain, such as improving infrastructure and the accompanying cost, serious health risks and thorough investigation in order to stop it from happening in the future.
Erin Brockovich, an Eco-woman to be reckoned with
You might remember her from the movie, starring Julia Roberts, as a single mother struggling to find a job, which led her to investigate a case involving the Pacific Gas & Electric Company. She discovered that land in the area was poisoning the residents, contaminated by a deadly toxic waste that the company was illegally dumping. She led her law firm into one of the largest class action lawsuits in the country’s history, one involving a multi-billion dollar corporation.
Yes, real woman, real story.
That was a couple of decades ago, and Brockovich is still on the move. She continues to fight for residents nationwide against toxic environments through her influence. Her voice resonates with the half a million followers on her social media, a platform that brought the Flint crisis to the media and government officials’ attention. Brockovich spoke out for Flint by calling out businesses, councils and the slow government response.
And yet, it is merely one of the hundreds of others in the nation whose water systems also are failing.
Sonia Abdulbaki is a freelance writer and the vice president at Daly Gray Public Relations, a firm specializing in hospitality. Sonia has extensive experience in the field of communications that includes her work at Green America. She is a contributing writer for Business Traveler magazine and MovieswithMae.com.