It’s just before 5 p.m. on a rainy Saturday in Flint, Mich. Inside Opa! Bar & Grill, formerly known as Thrifty City Bar, the smell of the fresh cool rain mixes with a warm musty smell of wood and beer inside the bar.
At the only karaoke bar on Davison Road sits 64-year-old Flint resident John Bednarski wearing a Milwaukee staple Harley-Davidson hat.
Bednarski listens to the overpoweringly loud country music playing inside the dimly-lit bar with bright neon signs while sitting at the bar; however, he’s not drinking alcohol.
“I only drink pop and water,” said Bednarski as he sipped on his free bottled water from the bar.
Bednarski started drinking from bottled water a year before the Flint water crisis in 2014 after being diagnosed with throat cancer. Suffering from a dry throat, Bednarski continues to use bottled water for cooking, drinking and making coffee but bathes and cleans with the lead-contaminated water.
Living alone in a home built in 1972, Bednarski knew he had to have his water tested for lead. His home was tested three times by Virginia Tech and each time the levels came back showing no warning signs.
“The first time I had it tested I paid no attention to it. The second and third time I saw no concern so I continued to use it,” said Bednarski.
After speaking with Bednarski for a few minutes, he expressed his strong feelings on how wasteful people are with their bottled water.
“No one is reporting the waste of bottled water,” said Bednarski as his voice rose speaking about the issue. “Stacks sit outside in the sun and I asked how can that be safe with the plastic bottles but get no answer.”
Not wanting to waste a single drop of the precious bottled water, Bednarski described how he’ll continue to use the bottled water after it gets warm by making coffee, feeding it to his plants or giving it to his cat.
It’s been three years since the city of Flint found a cheaper way to get their water by switching from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) to the Flint River. In 2014, the amount of lead that was seeping into the water became national news as it began to make residents ill.
Seventeen journalism students from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee drove the six-hour ride from Milwaukee to Flint in search of answers to the Flint water crisis. They wanted to speak with the people of Flint, going door-to-door, to see how they felt about not having clean water for three years.
While Bednarski is one of the lucky residents in Flint to not have any rashes or other conditions due to lead poisoning, he does receive help from the government with getting clean water and filters like many other Flint residents.
Going through around four cases of water a week when he had cancer, Bednarski would pick up cases for both him and his neighbor. He explained that there is little regulation when it comes to picking up water bottles from the water pickups which might correspond with the amount of waste.
Bednarski was able to pick up 20 to 30 cases of water for both him and his neighbor at one time. All he needed to do was give the zip code and address of both his home and his neighbor’s. He continued by saying no one was ever checking I.D.s, just that the zip code and addresses matched that of Flint.
“How the hell can they check it?” said Bednarski on the loose rules applied when picking up bottled water.
According to an article written by Dr. Ana Aparicio, Flint’s Latino community is silently suffering and being turned away for not being able to provide identification. When notified about the possibility that immigrants are being asked for I.D.s when he wasn’t, Bednarski became angry.
“They’re going to need to ask them too, that’s not right,” said Bednarski. “Why even ask if you’re not going to look? They’re targeting minorities.”
Chair of the Genesee County Hispanic/Latino Collaborative, Juani Olizares said that this problem is decreasing as time goes on.
“They were asking for identification last year but now they should be able to get water without showing any identification,” said Olizares.
Still focused on the issue of water bottle waste in Flint, Bednarski talks about how one can go through the neighborhoods and find lots of bottled water sitting outside on front porches. He is aware of the fact that people who are donating these water bottles want to know where the water is going but don’t realize it’s just sitting outside.
“I saw a church had guys unloading water on trucks and there were just tiers and tiers of it in the sun,” said Bednarski.
A member of his local crime watch unit for seven years, Bednarski is seeing crime rates go up around his neighborhood. He described how one of his neighbors was dealing drugs out of their home which led to the house being boarded up.
This same neighbor was also a victim of wasting water as Bednarski saw them filling up a pool with around 20 cases of bottled water.
“People just want more, more, more,” said Bednarski. “I could really abuse my water if I wanted to.”