Illustration by Darin Connolly.

By Sofia Solares

Five years. 

That’s how long it’s been since the city of Flint, Michigan had clean, drinkable water. 

Forcing people to use water bottles just to take a shower or cook is inhumane. Thousands of Flint residents have been living without a basic human necessity and it is unacceptable. Access to clean water should not be a privilege.

Flint residents’ struggle for clean water began in 2014, when Flint stopped using water from the Detroit River and turned to a closer source — Lake Huron — due to budget cuts. While the new pipeline, which should have been completed by 2016, was being built, the city used water from the Flint River instead. Once the city made the switch, Flint residents noticed their water smelled, looked and tasted strange, but city officials insisted the water was fine. 

It wasn’t until a year later that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) discovered the water’s lead levels were high. According to the EPA, water with lead levels of 5,000 parts per billion (ppb) is considered hazardous waste. Tests of Flint water revealed lead levels as high as 13,200 ppb. 

Officials were unaware that half the pipes connecting from the Flint River were made of lead. Due to a lack of corrosion control, the lead infiltrated into flowing water and into people’s homes.

It was an oversight with dire consequences. 

Lead puts adults at risk of high blood pressure, heart and kidney disease, miscarriage and reduced fertility. For children, lead exposure can cause nervous system damage, slow growth and brain development, hearing and speech impediments along with learning and behavioral issues. Drinking water should never come with a hospital bill attached.

To avoid these risks, many people had to use state-provided bottled water for their showers, meals and daily needs, while the city examined and replaced service lines that were indicated to have direct links to lead. In 2018, Michigan averaged a cost of more than $22,000 each day for disposable water bottles. 

Later that same year, the state stopped providing water bottles since most of the pipes that were lead-infected had been replaced. Flint city officials said this plan would be complete by the end of 2019. To date, they have only replaced 8,000 lines and still need to inspect 7,500 more. This leaves them only a handful of months to fulfill the promise that thousands of lives are depending on.  

In 2016, 8-year-old Mari Copeny, also known as “Little Miss Flint,” reached out to President Obama in a letter asking him to come to a congressional hearing about the water crisis. With the help of several organizations and groups, she has been able to raise thousands of dollars for the Flint community. It’s ridiculous that a child, who is supposed to spend her time learning and playing with toys, is forced to focus on fighting for her community’s right to clean water. 

In a matter of days, people worldwide were able to raise over a billion dollars for the reconstruction of the Notre Dame Cathedral after a tragic fire, which would have been more than enough to fix the Flint pipelines. 

So why can’t we do the same for Flint?