Omar A. Obreggon Cuebas
Four long years into the Flint Michigan water crisis, locals of Flint are protesting the conclusion of the free bottled water program. The entire crisis was a result of Michigan placing economic benefit over the lives of its denizens. In 2014 the state switched Flint’s main water source from Detroit to Lake Flint. After the change, a study done by the Environmental Protection Agency and Virginia Tech in 2015 showed that the lake had 19 times more lead than Lake Huron.
The state switched lakes in an effort to save money. The consequences of moving lakes were widespread. Michigan was moved mainly to act in response of a national outrage in 2015 and several class action lawsuits that followed soon after. It is clear that the state of Michigan did not uphold its duty as a safeguard for the welfare of its citizens. The reaction to the crisis further shows not only a lack of compassion but a lack of respect to their legal and moral obligation to the citizens of Flint.
The damages that the state has caused to Flint far surpass the loss of usable water. For months the people of Flint were unknowingly exposed to an amount of lead and iron that can lead to long-term health issues. Most at risk are children whose developing bodies are more susceptible to the harms caused by lead. Along with the physical effects caused by lead poisoning, there is long-standing emotional and psychological harm that will affect the people of Flint for years to come.
The damages in many ways are innumerable. Difficulty of placing a dollar amount aside, Michigan has a duty to the citizens of Flint. They failed in their initial duty by being criminally negligent. In response to that failure, the city of Flint must take hold a new set of duties to their people; an approach of restorative justice must be taken to fully address the damages that date has committed. Restorative justice would mean that the state would meet with the community of Flint and decide how to move forward.
The governor of Michigan announcing the end of the free bottled water program is not a step in the right direction. City officials and member’s pleas are being ignored by the state of Michigan. Rather than listening to the community, the state has arbitrarily made the decision to stop giving free water bottles.
I believe that in addition to whatever court-mandated damages the state must pay in lawsuits, the state has a special responsibility to their people. The absolute minimum of this responsibility would include free water bottles. Residents should not have to pay for the needed water bottles.
The necessity of the water bottles lies in the unsuitability of lead-ridden water. Using water bottles is the simplest stopgap measure until the state fixes the water in Flint. The level of lead in the city’s water source has gone back to normal, but the water is still being delivered in old lead pipes.
The state has lost Flint’s trust and for good reason. Michigan transgressed against its duty of protection. The people have rightly gained a deep distrust of the state government. It is now the onus of the state government to do what it can to regain the trust of Flint. Part of regaining that trust while fulfilling its duty is paying for water bottles. For the state to further shirk its responsibilities to Flint would be an affront to the rights of its members.
Flint citizens will continue to suffer at the expense of Michigan’s actions. Water bottles are not enough to forgive Michigan for starting the water crisis: it is the first step on a long road to redemption. The citizens of Flint’s concerns must be heard by the state and by people across the United States. Taking into consideration the initial response to the water crisis, we can only imagine how Michigan would act without being held accountable by the rest of the country.
Michigan was moved to act when the rest of the country was alerted to the crisis. The state had multiple opportunities to not poison Flint’s water supply and yet they were negligent anyways. It is then the duty of Americans not residing in Flint to pressure the federal government to ensure that Michigan is acting accordingly.