Will the Flint Water Crisis Motivate More Efficient Responses in the Future?

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Featured Media Resource: VIDEO: Here's How Flint's Water Crisis Happened (CNN)
Hear a summary of the information available to the state regarding the Flint water crisis, the decisions they made and their responses to the public.

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Will the water crisis in Flint, Michigan motivate government officials to respond more efficiently in the face of future health and environmental crises? #DoNowUFlint

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Learn More about the Flint Water Crisis

It seems as though you can’t turn on the TV or surf the Internet without hearing about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.  For a year and a half, residents of Flint were drinking water contaminated with lead—“a potent, know, irreversible neurotoxin,” says Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, which can cause learning disabilities in children. The crisis, now officially recognized as a state of emergency on a national level, has sparked interest in human rights organizations around the world.

It all began in 2014, when the City of Flint—where 40 percent of the residents live in poverty and a majority of the residents are black—in a cost-saving measure, switched their water supply from Detroit’s drinking water, sourced from Lake Huron, to the Flint River. Many sources mention a study in 2011 that found that he river water would need to be treated with anti-corrosive agents in order to make the water safe to drink, in compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974. The anti-corrosive agents were important because the pipes that had been in use in Flint for decades were old and contained lead. However, the Department of Environmental Quality decided not to add the anti-corrosives to the water. The day of the switch, April 25, 2014, Flint’s department of public works director Howard Croft stated in a press release, “The test results have shown that our water is not only safe, but of the high quality that Flint customers have come to expect. We are proud of the end result.” Once the corrosive water was flowing through the pipes, though, the damage was done. Residents complained of filthy drinking and bathing water, getting sick, and developing rashes, yet the government repeatedly assured them that everything was fine.


Government officials are now trying to find out how this all happened. How was contaminated water allowed to flow to the taps of Flint residents for a year and a half, and all the while they were told it was safe to drink? Investigations have commenced, launched by the federal government, Governor Snyder and Michigan’s attorney general Bill Schuette, and some key officials in the crisis have resigned. For now, Flint’s residents are relying on bottled water, filters and lead tests being distributed by the National Guard, state and local authorities, and volunteer organizations. Although Governor Snyder has apologized and stated that he was giving an additional $2 million to Flint to replace the contaminated water system, there has been an overall concern by residents about what seems to be a lack of solid plans for the future.

What do you think we, as citizens, and they, as government officials, have learned from this crisis? Do you think that lessons learned from the Flint water crisis will motivate governments to respond more quickly in the face of future environmental or health crises?

More Resources

Article: The Conversation
Will Anyone Be Prosecuted in the Flint Water Crisis?

This article, written by a professor of law, describes the laws that the City of Flint violated, who is investigating the crisis, and potential charges for those involved.

Article with Infographics: FiveThirtyEight
What Went Wrong In Flint

A step by step outline of the decisions that started the crisis, leading up to the plans that have been put into action thus far.

Video: PBS NewsHour
State Investigator Named to Flint Water Crisis Probe

A former prosecutor has been chosen to investigate the Flint water crisis by Michigan's attorney general, but this choice leaves people with questions about how independent the investigation will be.

Timeline: The New York Times
Events That Lead to Flint's Water Crisis

This timeline chronicles the events of the Flint water crisis from April 2014 to January 2016.

Video: CNN
Michigan Officials Absent at Flint Water Crisis Hearing

View a news report of the congress committee meeting over the Flint crisis.

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This post was written by Taylor Maxson, Maribeth Eickenhorst, Christina Hernandez, Camron Grant, Michael Hilton and Fatima Javed, students at Lonestar College-Kingwood.

KQED Do Now U is a bi-weekly activity in collaboration with SENCER. SENCER is a community of transformation that consists of educators and administrators in the higher and informal education sectors. SENCER aims to create an intelligent, educated, and empowered citizenry through advancing knowledge in the STEM fields and beyond. SENCER courses show students the direct connections between subject content and the real world issues they care about, and invite students to use these connections to solve today's most pressing problems.