Published on Apr 26, 2017
It’s been two years since the city of Flint, Michigan was found in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act, and residents are continuing to pay for contaminated water. Why is there still a water crisis in Flint?
Published on Jan 19, 2016
In the U.S. Flint, Michigan is at the centre of an environmental disaster after its water was found to contain high levels of lead. President Obama has declared a state of emergency. The BBC’s Michelle Fleury reports.
After coughing repeatedly throughout the first half of his speech, President Obama demanded a glass of Flint water saying, “I really did need a glass of water. This is not a stunt.”
The Flint Water Crisis represents one of the worst infrastructure management failures in contemporary U.S. History. While Flint’s water system is on its way to recovery (see “Lead removal from Flint water making progress, researchers find” PBS Newshour, Aug. 11, 2016), the investigation of the actions contributing to the crisis and who is responsible continues to unfold. CIT-E is currently compiling the available sources to create a lesson plan on the crisis; however this work is still in progress and the Flint Water Crisis is a case study that many instructors may wish to visit in a variety of civil and environmental engineering courses this fall semester. This article summarizes some of the key resources that CIT-E has identified has providing the best understanding of the Flint Water Crisis.
Read more to see the articles [place cut here to hide the bulk of the article]
Broad Overview Pieces:
If you want an easily readable broad overview of the crisis that provide a quick introduction (for yourself or for your students), the following news articles are good:
- “Ripple Effect” Wired Magazine, June 2016 – This longer piece contains a lot of great information including personal stories of victims affected by the crisis, the timeline of the crisis, background on Flint, background on Marc Edwards (the Virginia Tech researcher whose independent testing forced city and state officials to recognize the crisis), and also includes some broader background on other water system problems across the U.S.
- “When the Water Turned Brown” The New York Times, Jan. 23, 2016 – Similar to the Wired article, but this one provides background on Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician whose independent blood lead level testing provided further evidence of the crisis in contradiction to what city and state officials were telling residents. A good complement to the Wired article.
- “Lead-Laced Water in Flint: A Step-by-Step Look at the Makings of a Crisis” National Public Radio (NPR), Apr. 20, 2016 – This piece provides an excellent step-by-step timeline of the crisis. The original timeline was published in April, but NPR has continued to update it as additional critical events continue to happen.
Background on Flint, Michigan’s emergency managers, and the Flint water supply:
Once you have digested the broad components of the crisis, you might want some more contextual information on Flint and its broader problems. These articles and reports are good references:
- 3 articles on emergency managers: “The Scandal of Michigan’s Emergency Managers” The Nation, Feb. 15, 2012; “Does Michigan’s Emergency-Manager Law Disenfranchise Black Citizens?” The Atlantic, May 9, 2013; and “How Michigan’s Bureaucrats Created the Flint Water Crisis” Fortune, Jan. 19, 2016. – These three articles dig into Michigan’s use of emergency managers for fiscally stressed cities and their role in the water crisis.
- “The Flint Fiscal Playbook: An Assessment of the Emergency Manager Years (2011-2015)” Michigan State University Extension (White Paper), July 31, 2015 – This research paper was published while the Flint Water Crisis was unfolding so it does not dwell on any of the water quality issues; however it is one of the better sources on demographic data and the city’s financial status. If you are looking for hard data in your overall context of the city, this is a good source.
- “Flint Water Rate Analysis – Final Report” [Report by consultant Raftelis Financial Consultants, Inc. addressed to Michigan State Treasurer Nick Khouri] May 11, 2016 – If you want data explaining the connection of Flint’s water system to its overall financial problems, this report provides good background. Pages 16–28 of the report detail the historic drivers of cost for the system, key information for understanding the financial mindset underlying decisions that initiated the Water Crisis.
- Rowe Professional Services Co. performed a Water Reliability Study for which a draft report (April 27, 2016) was briefly placed online (but is now unavailable). The Rowe report contains much valuable information on the physical state of the Flint water distribution system (its components and configuration, average age of components, occurrences of water breaks, etc). While this report is not currently available to the public, this short news article summarizes some of the key takeaways from the report: “10 easy pieces: Key facts about Flint’s water system in new report” MLive Media Group, June 17, 2016.
- “How the Flint River got so toxic” The Verge, Feb. 26, 2016 – Not many of the news stories on Flint have summarized the poor condition of the Flint River; this article does.
- FlintWaterStudy.org – The website started by Professor Marc Edwards and the Virginia Tech research team. Contains lots of information and can be overwhelming to just drop into, however, CIT-E would be remiss not to point out this extremely relevant resource. Look under the Study Guide tab for links to articles on the corrosion experiments performed by the Virginia Tech researchers.
The Investigations of the Crisis; Criminal and Civil Charges:
At the heart of the Flint Water Crisis is the ethical underpinning (or lack thereof) that permitted the crisis to occur. There is a lot of documentation available related to various investigations, but the following are the most useful:
- “Flint Water Advisory Task Force – Final Report” Mar. 21, 2016. This is the report by the ad hoc task force put together by the Michigan Governor’s Office and it is scathing in its criticism of many actors, particularly the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). The report also contains one of the most complete timelines of the crisis (up to the date of publication, March, 2016).
- “The Flint Water Crisis, KWA and Strategic-Structural Racism” Written Testimony Submitted to the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, Hearings on the Flint Water Crisis, July 18, 2016. This is a lengthy report by Dr. Peter J. Hammer of Wayne State University which analyzes in great detail the decision to switch from Detroit Water and Sewer (DWSD) to the Flint River for the City of Flint’s water supply as well as the long-term plan to ultimately have Flint join the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA). This report draws substantially from a huge document release out of Governor Rick Snyder’s office from June 2016 (nearly 300,000 pages of documents!). No other current resource unpacks the questionable decisions that lead to using the Flint River as a water source more than this report. See pages 13-35 for the detailed analysis.
- “Read a Whistleblower’s Warnings About the Flint Water Crisis” The Huffington Post, Mar. 17, 2016. EPA regulation manager Miguel Del Toral was a central figure in revealing the crisis to the public, all the time while pushing against resistance within the EPA. There is an EPA document release (“Internal Deliberative Document of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Disclosure Authorized Only to Congress for Oversight Purposes” Dec. 2015 that contains primary source documentation from Del Toral and other EPA officials, but the Huffington Post article provides a quick window into the frustrations Del Toral faced with his EPA superiors and their lack of response to Flint. Del Toral was seemingly the earliest person to raise concerns about lack of corrosion control and the flawed lead sampling process being used by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality as evidenced by two other key documents: (1) an April 27, 2015 email (https://oversight.house.gov/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/April-27-No-Corrosion-Control.pdf) and (2) his June 24 interim report on lead levels tested at the home of LeeAnne Walters (http://flintwaterstudy.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Miguels-Memo.pdf).
- “Flint water crisis: Who’s been charged, who hasn’t” CNN, Apr. 22, 2016 and “Flint water crisis: New criminal charges are brought” CNN, July 29, 2016. These are good summary piece about the nine officials that have been criminally charged so far with wrongdoing in connection with Flint.
- “Michigan Attorney General Sues 2 Companies Over Flint Water Crisis” New York Times, June 22, 2016. This is just a short piece about the civil lawsuits brought against the engineering consults Veolia North America and Lockwood, Andrews & Newman (LAN). The actual court filing can be found here: https://www.scribd.com/doc/316445675/Bill-Schuette-sues-companies-for-Flint-water-crisis-role#fullscreen and includes a detailed statement of facts against the two companies.