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At this point, most are aware of the water disaster in Flint, Michigan. It took nearly two years, but the severity of the situation has finally garnered the appropriate legal and media attention. The ill-fated, cost-cutting decision to source water from the Flint River has left some residents with potentially long-term health problems, and a deep distrust of the individuals and government agencies there to protect them.

Those unfamiliar with the series of events that led to an official state of emergency can catch up with this convenient timeline, and overview.

Water samples from the Flint River and Detroit's Lake Huron supply. Image courtesy of the ACLU of Michigan - http://aclumich.org/sites/default/files/images/Flint%20water.png
Water samples from the Flint River and Detroit’s Lake Huron supply. Image property of the ACLU of Michigan.

The broader issue at play in Flint (and elsewhere) is an infrastructure that’s been falling apart for years, and will continue to do so until something major is done about it. And just as the decisions to ignore the well-being of Flint’s people were made to save money, that crumbling infrastructure has remained largely unaddressed: it’s simply “too expensive” to fix. Especially heartbreaking is the fact that even the most basic of mitigation measures weren’t implemented: had the water been treated with anti-corrosion agents, lead would not have leached out of plumbing and into children’s bodies, potentially altering brain development (among other terrible things). Whether this omission was the result of a budget calculation or incompetence, we don’t know yet.

Nothing will change what happened to Flint – we can only try to make sure it never happens again. A great number of things are expensive, and many of them are happily funded at all levels of government. Expensive as it may be, should we hope to avoid these kinds of tragedies in the future, we need to replace our pipes. Simple as it sounds, so long as lead is in contact with our water, we’re at risk. Among the harsh lessons to take away from Flint is that we need to make these kinds of necessary changes a national priority.

That, of course, will take some time. In the meantime, we encourage everyone to be proactive – if you have any suspicions about your water quality, test it! Contrary to what state and city officials in Flint appeared to believe, the taste, smell, and color of your water can be good indicators of contamination. County Health Departments can usually supply you with a list of certified testing labs, and home kits can detect a number of contaminants, including lead.

Those with a few dollars to spare might consider donating to the Flint Child Health & Development Fund, which is committed to helping those children affected both in the short and long term.

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