The sad and angry chapter of environmental racism knowingly perpetuated on the people of Flint, Michigan through poisonous drinking water, turned another page this week. It is a story that will never end, however, as lead poisoning is forever.
A $626 million settlement was reached between the people of Flint and the State of Michigan, the City of Flint and “other persons and corporations.” Other individual plaintiffs of Flint will continue to pursue justice. Eighty percent of the settlement will go to citizens who were 18 years old or less at the time of exposure between 2014 and 2019, with 50 percent of all monies going to children who were six years old and under at the time of exposure. With between 18,000 to 20,000 babies, toddlers and children affected, this works out to approximately $32,000 per plaintiff. A pittance. An insult. An obscenity to a child permanently brain-damaged. Standardized intelligence tests Flint third-graders took showed a 41 percent competency level for the age group prior to 2014. By 2017, this figure was at 10 percent.
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer had this to say: “The amount in this settlement does not reflect the value of the lives that have been lost and the lives that have been damaged.”
To this point, 12 people have died from either lead poisoning or Legionnaires’ Disease in Flint.
The sad and angry part is that money was the driving force behind this catastrophe. In brief, the people of Flint had perfectly fine drinking water coming from Lake Huron. Michigan is, in fact, a body of land that is surrounded by the most freshwater in the world. Why then would anyone change the source of water to the polluted Flint River? Governor Rick Snyder and his cronies had invested in the infrastructure to tap the Flint River. The plan was to lay new pipe while relying on old lead-lined pipe temporarily. That sin was compounded by continuing to lie to the population that all was fine with the water. President Obama visited Flint to calm fears and as one resident said, “The moment he took a sip of water he stopped being my president.”
Chemicals normally used in drinking water to abate the lead to some degree were inexplicably not used. City and state officials, including the Michigan Department of Environmental Services, began behaving like George Custer invading Vietnam. What could possibly go wrong? The Flint River water was corroding General Motors engine parts with an official man-spailin’ that “Engine parts are a separate category.” But as Pete Seeger sang in “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” during the Vietnam era, “The Big Fool said to push on.”
Governor Snyder said, “I’m sorry. I will fix it” after the damage was done and his feet were to the fire.
Snyder was indicted for two counts of willful neglect in July. Several other city and state officials have been charged with manslaughter.
There are three heroes in this story that deserve mention. The first is the people of Flint. Early on they stopped believing the lies they were fed. They came in numbers to public hearings with containers of water they refused to drink, cook or bathe in. They united. They got angry. They never stopped uniting and being angry. By 2015, 36,000 bottles of water a day were being distributed in Flint with people waiting five hours in lines.
The second hero is pediatrician Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha. She is proud of her “academic disobedience” in calling a press conference in 2015 before her work was peer-reviewed. She saw the human rights crisis playing out in the children she saw daily. “Dr. Mona,” as her patients call her, told “60 Minutes”: “There is no safe level of lead. It is an irreversible neuro-toxin with life altering consequences.”
The third group of heroes is the researchers and scientists who made an end run around knowingly falsified blood tests for lead levels in the children of Flint. They began accumulating baby teeth and saw that the growth rings on the teeth could pinpoint to the week when significant lead exposure had taken place. They had irrefutable evidence.
What will true justice look like for the children of Flint? No doubt the defense will have persons blaming “other persons and corporations.” From Alex “tiny actors at Sandy Hook” Jones, to the Sackler family and their millions made from the opioid crisis, to former Governor Snyder making money off poisoning children, the cry is always, “The buck stops over there somewhere.”
Keep Rockin’ For a Free World,
The Social Responsibility Committee represented by John Angelo (firstname.lastname@example.org)