One year ago, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician at Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Michigan released a study validating what many residents were shouting from the rooftops for months—the water in Flint was unsafe to drink. Until that point, no one was listening. Despite residents’ bringing bottles of brown, foul smelling water to public meetings as evidence something was wrong, officials paid no attention and failed to see the problem.
That is, until September 24, 2015. On that day, Dr. Hanna-Attisha went public with results of her study of 1,746 Flint children that showed elevated blood-lead levels—lead poisoning. Until that moment, government officials dismissed evidence brought to them by their constituents, and did not believe the very people forced to drink the contaminated water were in danger.
One year later after firm evidence of the health crisis brought about by stunningly bad judgment in every level of government, Flint is still not fixed: Congress has yet to pass a federal aid package, many people in Flint still do not have regular access to safe, clean water—and there appears to be no resolution in sight. It’s easy to wonder if we are in 1816 rather than 2016… If the officials paid heed to the evidence and voices of the people of Flint from the beginning, this community wouldn’t be in this endangered, unfair and unacceptable situation.
What happened in Flint is the polar opposite of what happened when elevated levels of lead were found in congressional buildings earlier this year. Congress took immediate action to shut down the drinking water supply, provide bottled water, offer blood lead level testing for congressional staff and accelerate lead in water testing for other buildings. While this self-regarding, self-serving, Royalist self-dealing of some in Congress may present a great opportunity to insert a punch line about democratically elected Representatives acting like clueless little princelings, the crisis in Flint, which still continues to this day, is no laughing matter. It is a shocking failure of moral responsibility, social solidarity and denial of fundamental justice.
Congress has yet to send any aid to Flint, more than two years after their water was contaminated with lead. Adding insult to injury—the Senate has passed a bill to provide a federal aid package but Michigan’s own Rep. Fred Upton, who chairs the House committee handling the Flint aid package will not act to pass it. As Congress gets ready to adjourn until after the November election, it appears, federal aid for the people of Flint has become a can that will be kicked down the road.
Meanwhile real people like you and me, the mothers, fathers, children and families across Flint continue to wait for aid, for clean safe water and to rebuild their lives.
Most anniversaries typically call for celebratory toasts in fancy flutes, but not anniversaries of tragedies. This year the people of Flint would gladly trade fancy champagne for the ability to drink and bathe in clean water right out of their taps. I’m sure many would say access to water is not only worth more than gold—it is in fact invaluable, a necessary condition of life and a resource everyone should have as a matter of right.