Grab a water bottle, turn on the faucet, fill it with water, and drink it. You might not remember how many times you’ve done this in your life, but it’s a lot and without hesitation. Why? Because you trust that the water is clean, fresh, and ready to be used.
Sadly, this wasn’t the case in 2014, when people in Flint, Michigan, noticed that the water coming out of their faucets was different in both color and taste. We’re talking about water that looked red or muddy and smelled of chemicals. What changed? Well, the city had recently moved its water supply to the Flint River to reduce costs but failed to do two things before making the move: 1) treat the water to make it usable and 2) make sure the pipes carrying the water to residents were not rotting or damaged.
Even as residents complained, the city authorities let the problem go unchecked by delaying tests, blaming seasonal changes, or removing results that showed high lead content in the water.
Citizens protested, as we often do when officials refuse to fix problems. Among the protesters was eight-year-old Mari Copeny, who traveled by bus with residents to a congressional hearing. As a resident of Flint, she and her community dealt with dangerous lead levels in their water for months. Copeny even wrote to then-President Obama, asking him to visit Flint and lift people’s spirits. President Obama did visit, and eventually declared a state of emergency in Flint in 2016.
What happened to the people of Flint who were affected by the contaminated water? The dangerous levels of lead in the water led to health issues among the residents, especially children. People continued to use bottled water in the city even as recently as 2017, since the water flowing from the faucets still wasn’t entirely safe for use.
So who was responsible for the water crisis in the city? After four years of investigations, Attorney General Dana Nessel dropped all charges against city officials because the investigation wasn’t done correctly, much to residents’ dismay.
In 2020, Flint residents have already seen the first signs of justice, as a court ruled that a $600 million fund be created to support the recovery of the citizens. Furthermore, the Supreme Court refused to block a lawsuit by residents who wanted to hold city officials accountable. Dozens of lawsuits were filed against the state, city, and even the companies that misreported results. The water supply today has been switched back to the original source, the Great Lakes Water Authority, and all water pipes will be replaced by September 18th, so they no longer seep chemicals into the water.
As for Mari Copeny? She’s now thirteen years old and actively involved in the Women’s March, and she supports and shares the voice of her community in Flint, Michigan.