National Guard troops are going into Flint, Michigan, to help distribute bottled water and filters to the city’s 99,000 residents, who for months have been drinking tap water containing dangerous amounts of lead. Michigan governor Rick Snyder announced the Guard units’ activation on Tuesday, as protesters chanted calls for his resignation. Snyder also said he would seek the aid of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Snyder declared an emergency in Flint last week, three months after his office was presented with tests showing that many of the city’s children had elevated levels of lead in their blood. The governor told NBC News that this gap was the result of “the need to follow protocol.”
But the crisis could have been anticipated before it ever began, back in April 2014. That was when Flint’s state-appointed emergency manager decided to switch the city’s water supply from Detroit’s system to the Flint River. The decision was made without a vote from Flint’s residents or elected leaders. Had there been democratic input, it’s likely state officials would have been reminded of a report the city commissioned in 2011 on the suitability of the Flint River as a long-term water source. The study found that the mineral-rich river water would need to be treated with phosphate, unlike the Detroit supply, to avoid leaching lead from the city’s pipes. But the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality apparently ignored the report’s recommendations. This week, the EPA’s top Midwest official confessed that the agency knew as early as April 2015 that Flint’s water lacked corrosion controls, but told the Detroit News that her “hands were tied” in bringing that information to the public.
Now, after just 2 percent of the city has been tested, 43 children have already been diagnosed with dangerous amounts of lead in their blood — a condition that can cause mental and physical development problems. More than 30 Guardsmen will be in Flint by Friday, joining the American Red Cross volunteers who have been bringing water bottles and filters door-to-door, CBS News reports. On Tuesday, local officials told the network that volunteers and police hoped to serve 500 to 600 houses a day. Flint has about 30,000 households.
Flint switched back to Detroit’s water supply in mid-October, but the city’s old pipes continue to present a danger. Last Monday, authorities declared that Flint’s tap water was unsafe to drink. Five days later, the state began handing out bottled water. Flint residents, many of whom live at or below the poverty line, are still being billed for the water that’s poisoning their kids.