An American Tale From Hell

Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com

Talk about nightmares: the children of a city, thousands of them, may have been poisoned by lead in its drinking water in a process set off by adults intent on saving a little money, who learned of the dangers and then ignored the warnings of scientists, revealed nothing to the public about the risks to their health, insisted on the water's safety, and in some cases suppressed information about its actual state. As anyone who has picked up a paper or turned on the TV news in recent weeks knows, this is a basic description of the ongoing crisis in Flint, Michigan, in which "austerity" economics dictated that a city switch to extremely corrosive water that often came out of the tap discolored, and sometimes left those who bathed in it with severe rashes. You undoubtedly also know that an anti-corrosive agent which might have prevented most of the corrosion in the city's water pipes, and so the lead poisoning of untold numbers of its residents, was skipped at a savings of approximately $100 a day. And lest you think that any lessons have been learned, Republicans in Congress, eager (like Michigan Governor Rick Snyder) to save a few bucks at whatever cost to the health of people they could care less about, refuse to fund a fix to the problem. As Reuters reported recently, "Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, said aid to Flint must not add to U.S. budget deficits for 'what is a local and state problem.'"

And while we're on the topic, the activist group Progress Michigan uncovered a revealing document from Michigan's Department of Technology, Management, and Budget. By January 2015, 10 months before the administration of Governor Snyder admitted that Flint's water was unsafe to drink, the state had already begun trucking water into that city and setting up water coolers next to drinking fountains in state buildings "so that state workers could choose to continue to drink Flint water or a safe alternative."

In such a grim situation, is there a ray of hope to be found? Let me suggest one in a group of workers who may feel austerity-bound in their own lives but haven't let that affect their sense of generosity to their fellow human beings. For months, from across Michigan, union plumbers by the hundreds have been driving to Flint and volunteering their time and skills to install filters and faucets that will help get at least some of the lead out of the water flowing into people's homes. Unfortunately, they can't replace the corroded pipes in the city's water system on a volunteer basis.

Today, TomDispatch has called on two of this country's top experts on the corrosive effects of lead on human health and on the ways in which corporations have profited from the use of lead while covering up its effects. In "Two, Three... Many Flints," David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz, authors of Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and the Fate of America's Children, survey the situation not just in Flint, but nationally when it comes to ways in which Americans, particularly our children, are being poisoned by lead. Without a doubt, it's the story from hell.