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Little Has Changed For Flint Residents Forced To Pay For Poisoned Water

Nearly 1,250 days ago, a major water crisis hit Flint, Michigan. Complaints by residents, matched with studies showing more evidence of serious health issues, continue to emerge. Yet, even as problems persist, authorities and officials involved in fomenting the crisis have yet to be held accountable.

Lead poisoning in the water brought about the rise of childhood development issues and long-term brain damage in Flint, but according to a paper from David Slusky of Kansas University and Daniel Grossman of West Virginia University, fetal deaths are on the rise.

The authors conclude that between 198 and 276 more children would have been born—an estimated 58% increase in fetal death rates—had Flint officials not switched the city’s water source from Detroit River to the Flint River. Their findings suggest that a “more lax regulatory environment in the context of drinking water may have substantial unforeseen effects on maternal and infant health, including large reductions in the number of births.”

Grossman and Slusky’s research is part of a growing number of studies on the devastating effects of Flint’s water crisis. Another study published in Environmental Science and Technology Letters confirms that the omission of orthophosphate, used to treat water, allowed contaminants present in pipes, including lead, to leach into the water.

Melissa Mays, a community organizer and founder of the clean water advocacy group Water You Fighting For, was directly impacted by water contamination. She updated Shadowproof on what has and has not changed.

Flint residents are still being forced to pay for water bills, Mays said. “We had a 65 percent credit for a short time, but the state took that away. So we still pay the highest rates in the United States for poisoned water. Now the state is threatening to take people’s homes by turning their unpaid water bills into a lien on their properties.”

“I was one of 8,002 residents who received this threat. So the poisoned community faces tax foreclosures because we refuse to pay for poison or simply cannot afford it. We still live off of bottled water because unfiltered water is too dangerous and the filters don’t remove everything.”

Past studies have shown filters distributed by the state to remove metals from the water may support the growth of bacteria. This is forcing residents to still use bottled water to prevent their families from getting sick, because even a simple shower can cause their skin to blister.

Mays’ household situation has not changed. The negative health impacts for her and her family have persisted since her last conversation with Shadowproof in June. She suffers from seizures, an autoimmune disorder, osteoarthritis “with bone spurs from head to toe,” irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulosis, high blood pressure, headaches, and now she recently went on medication for excess fluid building up in her body.

On top of this, she is currently dealing with another tooth “crumbling” because, as May explained, “lead settles in your bones and teeth and weakens them.” Her children still feel fatigue, bone, and joint pain, and her eldest child has to see an endocrinologist because his thyroid “bottomed out” and “something is off with his pancreas.” They are “still dealing with rashes, hair loss, and breathing difficulties in the showers.”

Mays laments that they feel abandoned by the state as the crisis deepens. “The government has shown zero remorse or concern as they ignore the residents, our health issues, and our demands to be treated with dignity,” she added.

“We have to sue to get them to fix what they broke and help us restore our lives. We feel that they are waiting for us to give up and die, but we refuse to. We will continue to sue and fight them in the courts, labs, streets, and legislature.”

In 2014, news of an attempt to cover up water contamination in Flint exploded across both national and international headlines. Lead and other toxins had not only polluted vital water sources being accessed by Flint residents, 41.2 percent of whom live below the poverty line, but residents were being forced to pay for water that was doing irreparable damage to their health.

A compliance case attempted to force the city of Flint and the state of Michigan to comply with the federal laws under the Safe Drinking Water Act. It would require Flint to replace all 18,000-20,000 lead and galvanized service lines fully at no cost to residents, provide free filters and water testing for four years, and keep the Flint Water Medicaid Expansion open until 2021, even if Trump ends with the program.

Mays clarified that as long as construction is going on the water will not be safe, and until the mains in the streets and the pipes inside homes are replaced, contamination through corroded pipes will continue.

Locals have to keep going to court to push for personal and property damages lawsuits “because Flint residents need to be able to repair our bodies and homes so we can start to recover,” Mays said.

“The water has damaged homes, appliances and so much more that no one is compensating us for. Attorney General Bill Schuette is fighting our lawsuits on one hand and filing criminal charges with the other. He announced his candidacy for governor for 2018 so we fear he will never settle our lawsuits.”

“We won a major battle in appeals court where they told us not only can we sue, but we can sue the state employees in a personal capacity as well,” Mays added. “The governor better settle in for a bumpy ride.“

“The world thinks that the Flint water crisis is over and we are getting better,” Mays said. “That’s what the state wants them to think, [but] we are still being poisoned but we are fighting.”

She mentioned the Lifetime channel is putting out the “Flint” television movie on October 28. “Hopefully people watch it because it tells the story of the first two years of our fight and how regular people banded together to fight the state and win.”

The people of Flint are asking that the fight for accountability not be forgotten. Because “if we don’t get fixed, they won’t either when this comes their way.”

“With the cuts to the [Environmental Protection Agency] and Environmental Regulations ready to [go into effect] by the current administration, every city could end up like us, 1,272 days into a poisoned water crisis with no end in sight.”

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Roqayah Chamseddine

Roqayah Chamseddine

Roqayah Chamseddine is a Lebanese-American writer, published poet, and journalist, whose work can be found at Roqchams.com.