Why Did the Flint Water Crisis Happen

In 2014 Flint Michigan decided to change its source of water for the cities drinking water supply. That decision in a short amount of time resulted in water so toxic that many residents got sick and some even died. Why did the Flint water crisis happen?

The ongoing Flint Water Crisis started after the drinking water source for the city was contaminated in April 2014, when City Officials failed to apply corrosion inhibitors to the old infrastructure pipes before switching over its water source from Lake Huron & the Detroit River to the Flint River. 

Some Flint Officials exactly who, no one knows decided to use the Flint River and they rebuilt and revamped the ancient Water Treatment System and Facility. The switchover was a media type of event and the city officials were excited about the happening which drew lots of attention.


What Caused the Flint Water Crisis


Officials from the City of Flint in April 2014, decided to change their water source which at the time was from the Detroit Water Department for the last half-century. Flint wanted to treat its own water from the Flint River. The problem with the Detroit water source was that it was extremely expensive. In fact, one of the most expensive water rates in the country.

The main problems with the new water source were that treating water from this river was more complex than treating water from the Lake Huron-fed Detroit river. There were corrosive chemicals that broke down inside the piping from the much older system. Heavy metals were breaking down the piping leaching lead into the system that delivered in the drinking water right up to the resident’s taps in their homes in Flint.

Corrosion Control was well known it is in most older infrastructures that exist in cities around the Country. It is mandated by the Federal government. Flint had a State-authorized Emergency Manager that answered no one, including the Mayor of Flint.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality was overseeing the switchover from Lake Huron to The Detroit River. But the people who to this day made the decision and why still have not answered.

The reason this all happened is that in a short amount of time, the water pumped from the River causes massive corrosion in the system’s pipes and lines, ate through, and leached Lead into residents’ Tap water. Not only lead but there were outbreaks of Bacterial Contaminants and even Legionaries Disease which was the bacterial contaminant that actually was blamed for killing people. The problems with Lead and humans especially children are well known.

For some unknown reason, the more residents complained, the more the City passed it off as the resident’s problem with their home or water piping. There were some well-known issues that the old infrastructure from Flint was a huge irreplaceable mess. It was built and meant to be shared with the Big Automobile Industries of Michigan which used a huge amount of water in the manufacturing process.

So the pipes and pump station were not normal in the size of a neighborhood water infrastructure and were meant to deliver huge amounts of water to factories in their hay day. This old vacant infrastructure along with vacated lots and fields were the remnants of a generation past. The lead was a big part of that infrastructure and still is in most old infrastructures around the country. The problem with Flint was it got into the drinking water.


Timeline For Flint’s Water Crises


It was soon after the April 2014 switchover that the residents started to complain about the taste, odor, and color of their tap water. After numerous complaints, the city of Flint issued a news statement in April 2014 that “Flint’s water was safe to drink”

By August and September 2014, They issued a boil-water advisory after coliform bacteria are detected in tap water.

The city has taken operational steps to limit the potential for a boil-water advisory to re-occur.”
Stephen Busch, a district supervisor for the state’s Department of Environmental Quality


In October 2014;  A General Motors plant in Flint stops using municipal water, saying it corrodes car parts.

In January 2015;  Detroit’s water system offers to reconnect to Flint, waiving a $4 million connection fee. Three weeks later, Flint’s state-appointed emergency manager, Jerry Ambrose, declines the offer.

Febuary 2015;  In a memo for the governor, officials play down problems and say that the water is not an imminent “threat to public health.”
“It’s clear the nature of the threat was communicated poorly. It’s also clear that folks in Flint are concerned about other aspects of their water — taste, smell and color being among the top complaints.

Feb 2015; 104 parts per billion of lead are detected in drinking water at the home of Lee Anne Walters. Ms. Walters notifies the Environmental Protection Agency. Even small amounts of lead can cause lasting health and developmental problems in children. The E.P.A. does not require action until levels reach 15 parts per billion, but public health scientists say there is no safe level for lead in water.


Sept-24-25 2015  A group of doctors led by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha of Hurley Medical Center in Flint urges the city to stop using the Flint River for water after finding high levels of lead in the blood of children. State regulators insist the water is safe.

Oct 1 2015 Flint city officials urges residents to stop drinking water after government epidemiologists validate Dr. Hanna-Attisha’s finding of high lead levels. Mr. Snyder orders the distribution of filters, the testing of water in schools, and the expansion of water and blood testing.


By Oct 2015 Flint reconnects to the Detroit River system. The residents of Flint are advised not to use unfiltered tap water for drinking bathing or cooking. By this time the message was clear to everyone from the City to the State and now to the Federal Government that what the residents in Flint were complaining about the year before was the drinking water delivered from the Flint River through the old Water Works System to the resident’s tap was contaminated with Bacteria and a large amount of Lead.


Flint Water Crisis Deaths


Due to insufficient water treatment, lead leached from the lead water pipes into the drinking water, exposing over 100,000 residents. Some City Officials believe that as early as 2017 the water supply from Flint was cleared and returned to acceptable levels. However other Environmental representatives and residents say that as of January 2019 Flint’s drinking water is still polluted and unacceptable to drink.

Between 2014 and 2015 in the predominately black city of Flint, 12 people died, and at least 87 were sickened by the drinking water. The deaths were attributed to the Bacterial contaminants that occurred during the Lead problem that was leached into the water supply.

Legionnaires disease is, essentially, an extreme form of pneumonia and was blamed initially for the deaths but scientists explained Legionnaires can’t be spread through a host,  it spreads through airborne particles called Legionella bacteria which grow in water and enters the body. But if someone chokes while drinking the water. Then it may happen.

In Flint’s case, experts that were brought in for the case expected that the water was to blame. The National Academy of Sciences eventually attributed the majority of these Legionnaires disease cases in Flint to a lack of chlorine in the city’s water supply after switching to the Flint River in 2014. They also said that, not only did the switch-over from the Detroit river water source cause the high levels of lead contamination but also the explosion of Legionella bacteria.


Many cities have aging water infrastructures, that hold, treat, and deliver water some as old as 100 years. The structures and materials used in piping systems are reaching the end of, or are exceeding, their life expectancy. Incredibly, some water older systems contain bacteria, lead, and asbestos which became an environmental disaster in Flint Michigan’s water infrastructure Read my article called What is Water Infrastructure?

 What is Water Infrastructure

Is Flint Water Safe to Drink Now


In April 2018 the state stopped providing Flint residents with bottled water. At the time, Gov. Rick Snyder announced that Flint’s water quality had been restored, citing state tests that showed 90% of “high-risk” water samples had lead levels at or below 4 parts per billion. That’s well below the federal actionable level for lead in water of 15 ppb, although no amount of lead is considered “safe.”

The Governor provided numerous consistent test results that Flint’s water was safe to drink. They still have a program that gives out free water filters to residents and that program will stay in place. People here are still afraid of drinking the water in Flint and Officials likened it to having PTSD from having their children poisoned and their pets die.

The lead piping that was the source of the contamination is scheduled to be completely replaced by the fall this year 2019. There are plans for contracting bids to go out for repairing and replacing Flint’s failed Infrastructure.

Still, people have a hard time putting the past behind them and trust back in their City’s government Officials after the crises that gained national attention. A new engineering Firm called AECOM was hired to oversee the complete water pipes service replacement that will be completed in the next two years.

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant, and the agency’s public information officer, Brad Wurfel, resigned in the fall of 2015, as the crisis was made public. Fifteen state and Flint officials have since been criminally charged for their alleged roles; five with manslaughter:

Nick Lyon, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services

Darnell Earley, Flint’s former Emergency Manager

Howard Croft, the city’s former Director of Public Works

Liane Shekter-Smith, the State’s former top Drinking Water Official,

Water supervisor Stephen Busch of the DEQ.  Four defendants have cut plea deals for lesser charges, and court proceedings continue for others, including the five charged with manslaughter.

In 2020 work continues.  The City of Flint is trying to move on but in most people’s opinion, Flint will forever be known as the American City with The Water Crisis


JimGalloway Author/Editor


References: Flint Water Crisis




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