A new federal report says the certified filters distributed throughout Flint work better than expected and everyone – including children and pregnant women – can now safely drink the water.
Which is something, I suppose.
But it’s nearly July, 2016, a full six months since the water situation exploded into the local and national consciousness. (Let’s not forget it’s been much longer, however, since the poisoning actually began.)
Shouldn’t this report have come – let’s be kind – just a wee bit sooner? The answer, in case you’re not aware, is (excuse me, I’m going to shout) “DAMN STRAIGHT IT SHOULD HAVE!”
So we know this much: The astonishing slow-roll response to one of the nation’s biggest, most pervasive health crises ever continues. Maple syrup has nothing on the state and federal government, which continue to have a curious definition of the word “emergency.” It’s as if they think it’s fun to live out of 10-ounce water bottles.
Several things should be noted:
- The EPA/CDC report doesn’t mean that unfiltered water in the city is safe to drink. In our short-attention span world, that point needs to be emphasized. Many, I’m sure, caught only a snatch of a TV news report or glanced at a headline and assumed the all-clear for all Flint water had been issued. Presumably, people who live in Flint day-to-day and drink the stuff will note the distinction but others across the state and nation may not. If so, that’s not good. Prior to this announcement, you could already feel the urgency toward Flint’s plight ebbing. Note to world: This report means little. Flint is still in trouble. Please continue to help.
- A lot of people in Flint may never hear about the report. Society has changed. We don’t all read the same newspaper or faithfully watch or listen to the news anymore. So a lot of people in Flint simply don’t hear about what’s going on with the water crisis. Word of mouth is probably the leading source of information in Flint these days. There has to be a better way but no one has come up with one yet, short of going door to door.
- Not everyone has or uses a filter. While 124,000 filters and double that number of replacement cartridges have been distributed in Flint to date, according to the Free Press, at least 2,300 homes still don’t have one. That’s a lot of people and a lot of kids. Why those homes don’t have one is anyone’s guess. It’s been six months, people. If mail can reach every house everyday, surely we can figure out a way to get filters to everyone, yes? I’ll say it again: Where’s the urgency?
- Filter cartridges need to be replaced regularly. This may go without saying, which is why it needs to be said over and over again. In the best of circumstances, people forget to change their filters. I do it. You do it. People in Flint will do it. New filters aren’t always handy or easy to install either, which is why relying on filters is a stop-gap at best.
- The lead pipes still have to be changed. As Mayor Weaver pointed out, it’s nice the filters work but replacing the pipes is still the only solution that people will ever trust, and there’s been 269 straight days of state inaction on that front, according to Eclectablog. (No hurry, guys. Finish your lattes and scones.)
In the end, trust, in fact, may end up being the biggest challenge of all in this crisis. Filtered water is now safe. And someday – at the current pace I’m estimating around 2050 – unfiltered water straight out of the tap will be safe as well.
But how are you going to get people to believe it?
Note: The Free Press included this helpful bit of info in its story on the EPA/CDC report: Flint residents interested in getting filters, cartridges or help in installing them can contact 2-1-1 in Flint or visit the following locations — the Genesee County Land Bank at 2320 Pierson St., Antioch Missionary Baptist Church at 1083 E. Stewart Ave., West Court Street Church of God at 2920 W. Court St., Dort Federal Event Center at 3501 Lapeer Rd., or the Genesee County Land Bank at Eastown Bowl Bowling Alley, 3001 S. Dort Highway.
Image credit: Jon Rawlinson