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The forgotten people of the Flint water crisis

  • 19 June 2017


Last Wednesday, five Michigan officials were charged with involuntary manslaughter for their role in the unfolding health crisis in Flint, Michigan — a crisis that has included at least 12 deaths from Legionnaires' disease, in addition to the possible lead poisoning of a whole population.

These charges are significant, but there are lingering questions as to who else is culpable and why the crisis remains unsolved.

Despite the narrative you often hear, the water crisis in Flint was not discovered by investigative reporters, Virginia Tech researchers, or doctors. The people of Flint were aware that something was wrong from the moment their water was switched over to the Flint river in April 2014. They just couldn't get anyone to listen.

I sat down last month with Flint residents, Teresa Farley and Nancy Burgher, at Camp Promise — a protest camp that sprung up this year in Flint with the aid of protesters from Standing Rock. Farley had just been released from hospital after having a pacemaker inserted. The doctors told her the water caused her health issues.

'Even my dog stopped drinking the water. And it stank. It was awful. We all knew. And we started warning other people, but they were all telling us we were crazy.'

A day earlier, in Detroit, Noah Hall (who has been assisting the Attorney General's Flint Water investigation) pointed out to me that it wasn't just the government that ignored the people of Flint.

'There's this idea that there was a cover up, and the truth is so much worse. Everybody in Flint, from day one, knew. And they were doing exactly what NGOs want them to do. They were holding big public meetings with rooms full of people waving jugs of dirty water in front of elected officials, and that just didn't count.'

It wasn't until data became available from investigative journalist Curt Guyette, local pediatrician Dr Mona Hanna-Attisha and Virginia Tech researcher Marc Edwards, that NGOs and the media began taking the Flint Water issue seriously. I ask Hall if this reflects our obsession with data and he nods vigorously.


"When GM said they couldn't use Flint water because it was corroding the car parts, they switched them back to Detroit water. But, when the Flint residents asked to be switched back, because we were being corroded inside, they would not do it." — Nancy Burgher


'Why is it that a room full of people holding brown water gets discounted, not