1,679 DAYS… AND COUNTING.
As of November, 2018, the people of Flint, Michigan have been without clean water for 1,679 days and counting.
Prior to 2014, the city of Flint purchased treated water from Detroit. In hopes of saving money, the city announced that a new pipeline would be built to deliver water from Lake Huron. In the meantime, they would use the Flint river as their water source. When the switch was made, the city violated federal law by choosing not to treat the highly corrosive river water. Consequently, the water quickly ate away at the city’s old pipes, bringing lead into the faucets of every Flint home. Residents unknowingly drank this poisonous water for over a year and a half (often resulting in negative health effects) before the city finally informed them of the contamination and provided them with free water bottles. The people of Flint depended on that bottled water to drink, bathe in, and cook with every day for the next three years. In April of 2018, Flint began the long process of replacing all lead pipes in the city. Water quality began to improve, and Governor Snyder called for the end of free water distribution. Since then, the infamous crisis is no longer making headline news, and many outsiders think the problem has been resolved. However, that is far from the truth.
This series uncovers the untold stories of six individuals who have been living through this crisis for 1,679 days and counting. The effects of this man-made disaster will haunt Flint financially and environmentally for years to come. After being poisoned, neglected, and forgotten, the people of Flint need their voices to be heard now more than ever.
Nakiya Wakes lost two sets of twins while she was unknowingly ingesting lead-contaminated water. She was pregnant in 2015 and again in 2017, both resulting in miscarriages. “I don't even think I can have kids again. That’s four babies that were literally killed because they poisoned me.”
After her most recent miscarriage, Nakiya received a letter from the State of Michigan stating that Flint residents 55 and older or pregnant should not drink the water. Since April, 2018 when free water distribution was stopped, Nakiya has been using her food stamps to buy bottled water for herself and two children.
Though many people think that Flint water is safe to drink now, Nakiya disagrees. “The water is not clean, they're lying. They're literally trying to kill us. This was a genocide.”
Joelena Freeman, 40 year old mother of three has lived in Flint her entire life. “I’m pretty darn broke. It’s hard for me to buy water, as cheap as one might think water is. I can't do it. Sometimes we run out of bottled water, but there's no way I would use the faucet water to drink or cook with. I'd rather starve for a day until I can get some bottled water because you don't know what you're going to get when you turn on that faucet.”
Despite the water being poisoned, Flint residents are still required to pay their water bills, at some of the highest rates in the nation. “We’re still being held hostage by these high water bills. My bill is easily $150 a month.” Joelena stopped paying her water bills at the beginning of the crisis in protest, but has since resumed after witnessing many people lose their homes as a result of refusing to pay. She currently owes the city $3,000 in unpaid water bills and is working to pay it off to avoid having her water shut off completely.
Retired General Motors worker, Gary Cooper, has broken out in itchy rashes from showering in Flint’s contaminated water. He feels frustrated with the way that the State of Michigan handled the water crisis. “The way they just overlooked everything and swept it under the rug... I feel like it was an assassination on Flint. People have died from this.”
With over half of Flint’s residents being of a minority race, many skepticize whether this man-made disaster was an act of environmental racism. Suspicions grew stronger after Flint’s emergency manager (Harvey Holland) recently testified that he informed Governor Snyder about increasing lead levels months before Snyder told Congress he did.
Gary hopes the city will finish replacing all of the lead pipes soon and one day switch their water source to Lake Huron.
Brenda Crist feels blessed that her neighborhood was not one of the hardest hit during the water crisis. Though water at her home was contaminated, it never smelled or became discolored as many others’ did. However, when construction workers finally came to replace the pipes in her yard this past August, she was left with a mess. “They did it like clock work. They tore up the yards and did whatever they had to. But they've never come back to fix the yards. My neighbor got it quoted, it would cost them $300 for a lawn care service to fix it.” With 41% of Flint residents living below the poverty line, many cannot afford to fix the damage done to their yards by pipe replacement construction.
Brenda worries about the detrimental environmental effects that water bottle distribution has had on the city. “I wish they would’ve handed out gallons of water instead of millions of small bottles. It sickens me to see plastic bottles rolling down the curb, blowing in the wind. There’s no one assigned to clean those up. In the past I have walked up and down my road or gone to a vacant lot to pick up what I can.”
36 year old Flint resident was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when he was a teenager, requiring him to be heavily medicated. Before graduating college, his medication use spiraled into a heavy heroin addiction. He was suspected of distributing drugs on a national scale and placed in Genesee County (Flint) jail while awaiting his trial. “While I was there, we could not drink the water. They had to give inmates bottled water. People were sleeping on the concrete floor with bottled water as their pillows.”
After being found innocent, he was homeless for a year before finding out that he was going to be a father, causing him to re-evaluate his lifestyle. After deciding he wanted to focus on being a good dad, he sought out treatment at the Genesee Health Center and got back on his feet.
He is now working, and his 2 ½ year old son lives in Detroit with his Mom. He pays a lot of money for his son to live anywhere but Flint, however, this means he doesn’t get to see him as much as he would like to. He is currently saving money in hopes to leave Flint, buy a vehicle, and find a job closer to his son.
Amber and Tuklor are parents to six children and own an essential oils shop in Flint. Like many, they’ve experienced several negative health effects after being exposed to the contaminated water. “You get in the shower and your eyes burn. My youngest son has never had a bath because he was born in 2014, right after the water switch. My daughter has had hair loss. I know that a lot of other people have hair loss because I sell a hair growing product at my shop that has built my customer base since the water crisis started.”
Amber has been a performer of spoken word since 2002, and living through the water crisis has inspired her to start an organization called The Sister Tour. As a form of social justice for the people of Flint, The Sister Tour hosts musical performances across the country to raise money to bring an Atmospheric Water Generator to Flint. Amber came across this device (invented by the Water Rescue Foundation) while assisting with disaster relief in Puerto Rico after hurricane Maria. The device extracts moisture from the atmosphere and produces thousands of gallons of water a day, which helped provide clean water to a third of the island after the hurricane. Amber and Tuklor believe this device would help Flint recover from this disaster. “We all have to use our ‘thing’... whatever it is that we have, to make changes.”
Donate to the Catholic Charities of Flint to help allow residents access to clean water and reduce the environmental impact of disposable plastic bottles. Click here to donate.
Donate to the Flint Kids fund to support the long term health and development needs of Flint Children exposed to lead. Click here to donate.
Spread the word. Because this issue has received very little media attention in recent months, it is important that people understand this crisis is far from over. The people of Flint have been neglected and deprived of a basic human right for years. Please be a part of keeping this conversation alive and educating others to ensure that history will not repeat itself.