The city of Flint, Michigan, will no longer be provided the free bottled water that citizens have relied on since a crisis left them without clean water beginning in 2014.
“We have worked diligently to restore the water quality and the scientific data now proves the water system is stable and the need for bottled water has ended,” said Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder in a statement on Friday, April 6.
The Flint water crisis began when the drinking source for Flint was changed to the Flint River, which exposed many who drank it to high levels of lead due to insufficient water treatment. Those affected were instructed to use bottled water for drinking, cooking and bathing even after the water qualities was reported as acceptable in early 2017, as they were supposed to wait until all lead pipes were replaced.
“Bottled water may be ending but the state’s commitment to the residents of Flint remains strong,” said Rich Baird, senior advisor to Gov. Snyder and team leader for the state’s Mission Flint Office, in Gov. Snyder’s statement. “I want to acknowledge all of the people who contributed to Flint’s water recovery efforts. We are grateful to the researchers who discovered the problem and to the thousands of people who have provided water and support, and helped monitor the water quality.”
Michigan has been providing free bottled water to Flint citizens since a state of emergency was declared in 2016, but the state is now closing the four distribution centers that remain. City officials disagree with this decision, saying that Flint is still in recovery.
“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,” said Karen Weaver, mayor of Flint. Weaver claims that she was made aware of the state’s decision just moments before they told the public.
As of now, the city of Flint has replaced over 6,200 of the lead pipes by working with contractors. Officials hope to replace the estimated remaining 12,000 by 2020.
“Flint’s water is undoubtedly one of the most monitored systems in the country…” said Keith Creagh, director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and former interim director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality who remains the principal on Flint water, in Gov. Snyder’s statement. “Even with the quality water results to date, we will continue to support Mayor Karen Weaver’s service line replacement program as it is an important component to the long-term integrity of the Flint water system.”
After the announcement was made, Flint residents lined up at distribution centers to collect the last of the free water bottles. Despite any scientific findings, they are skeptical of the water. Many are still concerned about its effects on the children of Flint, as one study by the American Journal of Public Health has found that twice the percentage of children in Flint had elevated levels of lead in their blood after the water source switched in 2014. The switch has also been connected to 12 cases of Legionnaires’ disease.
“There are still questions that remain,” said Dr. Pamela Pugh, Flint’s chief public health adviser, in a statement. “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.”
Michigan will still be providing free water filters to Flint residents should they request them.