Nearly 783 million people worldwide live without access to clean water. While a vast majority come from impoverished or developing countries, just 372 miles from Milwaukee a once flourishing American city has been crippled by dirty water.
The city of Flint, Michigan is well-known for two very different reasons. One being the birthplace of automotive giant General Motors and, most recently, contaminated water. The media portray Flint as a vast wasteland; an entire city in ruins all while routinely highlighting private details of the “dismal lives” of Flint’s forgotten residents.
Flint’s city motto is simple; “Strong, Proud.” Only by entering Flint city limits can one fully understand the accuracy of these two words. The resilient nature of Flint residents resonates an aura of pride everywhere you go, and sometimes necessity.
But the pride and resilience take place in a landscape of problems. Many areas of today’s Flint bare a striking resemblance to post-Katrina New Orleans and, in some cases, even war-torn Baghdad. Residents call Flint “Chernobyl” and a “third-world country” and describe how their legs swelled from the water.
Rich Taylor has lived on the east side of Flint for the past 16 years and, despite not having access to clean water, Taylor says leaving is impossible.
“I want to go somewhere else, but my situation calls for me to stay here. I’ve got kids, man,” said Taylor.
Clean water is universally seen as a “human right,” and many Americans would not dare a life without being able to shower or pour a glass of water straight from the kitchen sink. For the last several years, the people of Flint have been living without clean water to drink or without getting to bathe without fear of a rash.
Most Americans hear the stories of poisoned water pumping through Flint homes. A city struggling to exist and ready to die, yet the story of Flint remains yesterday’s news.
Questions about Flint still remain. How is this still happening, and why are residents of Flint continuing to live there?
Taylor was getting his water from the local bus terminal until city officials cracked down on residents using the fountains for drinking water.
“The city offers bottles of water, but only at certain pick-up points. I don’t have a car, so I got my water from the bus station. That is until they shut off the H2O,” said Taylor.
Images of a once thriving city of yesteryear survive everywhere. Tree-lined boulevards compiled with a flowing river, and wildlife offer a feeling of serenity and peace. That is, until you drive off of Saginaw Street.
Abandoned elementary schools like “Cook Elementary Academy” and empty playgrounds offer eerie glimpses into the lives of what life is like growing up in modern day Flint.
Homeowners have abandoned areas of once flourishing neighborhoods. Business like General Motors have either gone under financially or moved on to another town. The empty neighborhoods with buckling homes and roads leave Flint visitors in shock, but residents recognize Flint for what it is.
“Flint is like Chernobyl,” said resident Anthony Allen.
Although the comparison may be a stretch, Allen may not be far off. Lead levels in Flint have consistently surpassed the EPA standard of 15 parts per billion (or ppb for short). Some homes in Flint have even registered 100 times more than the allowed lead levels in drinking water.
This is significant due to the harmful effects lead can have on people. Lead exposure can cause brain damage, legionnaires disease, kidney damage and even death. Since the water crisis began in 2014 Flint has
Lead is especially dangerous when it comes to children. Children who have exposure to lead poisoning may see a decrease in IQ level, a shortened attention span, and even delay puberty. Some estimates claim that nearly 9,000 children of Flint have been exposed to contaminated lead water since the crisis began in 2014.
Cedric Jones, who born and raised in Flint, believes the local government has an ulterior motive behind the water crisis.
“Politicians don’t care. If Flint was upper class or middle class, they would have fixed this by now. They don’t care about the black community,” said Jones.
The black community of Flint makes up nearly 57 percent of the city’s of the 98,310 residents. Jones also says he has been personally affected by the contaminated water on several occasions.
“I have to boil my water before I can shower. I used to drink the water because they said it was good, but my legs became swollen. I thought the orange water in the penitentiary was bad,” said Jones with a chuckle.
As Jones was set to depart he made a plea to anyone paying attention to the water crisis.
“Flint matters. Keep it real, and tell our story. Help us; it’s a third world country over here,” said Jones as his smiling face shifted to one of concern. “I just pray everyday.”
The city of Flint has seen a decrease in population every decade since the 1960’s. Yet, Flint lives on, and the people of Flint persevere. Adam Cooper, a swim coordinator and instructor for the local YMCA and lifelong Flint resident, believes the media only focus on the negative side of Flint. Cooper believes Flint is moving in the right direction, and he may be right.
A recent resurgence has hit the city of Flint in spite of the on-going water issue. The “Flint Farmer’s Market” brings a sense of community and escape from the crisis while the booming section of Saginaw Street in downtown Flint creates sentiments of an upscale trendy town, while the aptly named “Tenacity Brewing” gives Flint a taste of fantastic micro-brews and live music.
Recently, the city of Flint was granted $170 million dollars in federal funding to assist in the recovery of the water crisis. The city hopes the water crisis will be resolved by the year 2020.
“When I take my swim team out of state, everyone wants to feel sorry for us,” Cooper said. “That is, until we kick their ass.”