William Viloudaki
Commentary
Google Images
Courtesy

Officials prioritized saving money over health of residents of Flint

The Flint Water Crisis has shocked millions as its story unfolded over the past month, yet awareness has come far too late for many of the citizens affected.

In April 2014, Gov. Rick Snyder switched the Flint water supply from Lake Huron, one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world, to the heavily polluted Flint River. Since then, the 102,000 residents of Flint, Mich. have been exposed to extremely high levels of lead in their water supply, all while being told it was perfectly safe to drink. Now 9,000 children under the age of 6 are at high risk of lead poisoning, which has devastating effects on brain and motor functions. Although these facts are undeniable, there still seems to be no end to the perfidy of this story.

In young children, lead poisoning is a life-changing condition. As it develops, small changes in behavior slowly become more noticeable. The child starts crawling off balance. He or she may stop making eye contact or suffer from migraines. Often the victim will become irritable and act impulsively or violently. Lead poisoning is commonly misdiagnosed as autism, since both have comparable symptoms. Every child in Flint is at risk of permanent brain damage of this level.

Now these children could be permanently affected with brain damage at untold cost and suffering for their families and communities. And what purpose did it all serve? Michael Moore reported that Gov. Snyder cut public services along with welfare, education and pensions in Michigan to pass a multibillion dollar tax break for the elite. In order to maximize his profits, he installed an emergency manager to run Flint who passed the switch to river water, saving him $15 million. An anti-corrosive additive to prevent lead from seeping into the water could have been added for merely $9,000.

Gov. Snyder denied awareness of high lead levels in Flint’s water up until October 2015. Yet in January, the government started shipping clean water to Flint’s state buildings while telling those outside the bureaucracy the tainted water was perfectly safe. General Motors stopped using the water since it was too corrosive for their auto parts at the factory. Gov. Snyder owed GM a favor, so the administration hooked up water from Lake Huron to the GM factory for $440,000, while children in Flint had to drink the same poisonous water that was too damaging for a two-ton steel car.

Before the crisis was finally acknowledged, EPA officials reported tests had been skewed to underreport lead levels, doctors warned of elevated levels of lead in children’s blood and citizens issued dozens of complaints. These concerns were dismissed as trivial, challenged for sowing hysteria and denied outright. For over a year, officials downplayed this crisis and later denied their own culpability in the grievous crimes.

Flint is a prime example of the many normalized tragedies inflicted upon the lower class and black populations in America. Every preference and protection was given to the companies and local administration — those who the government has a vested interest in — while the lower classes were lied to, deceived and told to drink the water which has now damaged thousands of lives.

This crisis is not without precedent in the U.S. In fact, such administrative and structural failures often follow a similar course of denial, uncertainty and downplaying of danger. Native American tribes have fought to raise awareness of their own contaminated water supplies for decades. The U.S. relocated the Navajo to the Sanders, Ariz. area in 1979, fully aware that radiation from a nearby uranium spill would poison their water supply.

The bureaucracy favors corporations and its own self-interest over its citizens, and so these tragedies will never stop. The Flint Water Crisis is far from an isolated instance or one that could be dismissed as the gross inaction of a single governor. It is rather part of a system that silently promotes structural violence in the interest of corporations, and that remains complicit in such crimes against humanity.

Chances are Gov. Snyder will resign, as several other officials in the Michigan government have done. Water will continue to be distributed by a few volunteers in Flint, the infrastructure may be partially repaired and this incident will slowly be forgotten as time passes. Yet it is highly unlikely that the families will ever receive reparations, or that any reparations proposed could even begin to amend the damage wrought upon the developing brains of Flint’s children. And as long as the U.S. values corporations more than people, maintains this low water line for the worth of human life and refuses to help those who need its help the most, this incidence will happen again.