Aretha Bradley was eating lunch at a restaurant when she saw on Facebook that the state of Michigan would soon stop delivering bottled water to residents in Flint, Michigan.
Bradley hurriedly finished her meal, got into her car and drove as fast as she could to the water distribution site on South Dort Highway near her home.
Lots of other people apparently had the same idea.
“It was car after car after car after car trying to pick up water,” Bradley, 53, told HuffPost. She picked up the eight cases she uses to cook, the maximum amount a resident can receive per day.
On Friday, the state of Michigan announced that the quality of Flint’s water was “restored” and the water therefore as safe to drink as in other big cities. It also said the state government would no longer provide bottled water to city residents.
Yet some locals aren’t convinced their taps are safe. After all, the government downplayed the contamination four years ago, even after the water had turned brown.
“If you know the story behind how we got in this situation like we did, I think you can understand why we the people do not trust those who are supposed to be looking out for the best interests of all of [Flint’s] residents,” said Bradley, a speech therapist who takes care of her elderly mother.
Due to bad oversight by the state, toxic lead started poisoning Flint’s water in April 2014. Lead exposure can cause brain damage in young children and miscarriages in women; researchers have documented both increased lead in Flint kids and a possible increase in fetal deaths.
Since the state admitted its mistake and took corrective action at the end of 2014, the government has closely monitored the city’s water. For nearly two years, lead levels have been below the federal “action level,” but until Friday, officials seemed hesitant to declare the water safe.
“For the past two years I have repeatedly been asked when I would declare the water safe in Flint and I have always said that no arbitrary decision would be made — that we would let the science take us to that conclusion,” Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) said in a statement.
“I think you can understand why we the people do not trust those who are supposed to be looking out for [our] best interests.”
But the decision to discontinue bottled water delivery is contrary to available science, said Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, whose research exposed the spike in Flint kids’ blood lead levels and forced the state to admit its mistake.
Flint is currently replacing the thousands of lead pipes connecting water mains to people’s homes, making it only the third city to undertake wholesale lead pipe removal after Lansing, Michigan and Madison, Wisconsin. But Hanna-Atisha says research has shown that pipe replacement and even street work can temporarily increase the amount of lead coming out of household faucets because vibrations from the construction can dislodge lead particles in the pipes. The work in Flint won’t be finished until later next year at the earliest.
“This is a period of increased risk,” said Hanna-Attisha, who is now the director of the Pediatric Public Health Initiative, a joint effort by Michigan State University and Hurley Children’s Hospital.
A spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality pointed out that the state will continue to provide water filters that are effective for removing lead.
Jason Rogers, a 42-year-old program coordinator for a local youth mentoring organization, had one word for the governor’s declaration that the water is restored.
It’s “bullshit,” he told HuffPost. “Rick Snyder would not live here and drink this water.”
Rogers, who works with about three dozen Flint kids on a daily basis, explained that the free bottled water program has become a “feature of our reality.”
“We don’t talk about [the water] too much because, like I said, it’s just our reality now, but I’ve heard [the kids] talk about how they still have to prepare meals with the bottled water,” he said. “They still, for the most part, use the bottled water for the major aspects of their lives.”
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver (D) said she learned of the decision to shutter the bottled water program only moments before the public announcement.
State Rep. Sheldon Neeley (D) received a phone call about the cancellation of the program 30 minutes prior to the governor’s announcement. “From what they told me, I don’t believe any of the state representatives had any prior information to this happening,” he told HuffPost.
“Rick Snyder would not live here and drink this water.”
Neeley grew up in Flint. His family has been getting its bottled water from one of several distribution sites known as “pods.” The pods are slated to close once their water supplies run out.
“It was traumatic for the city of Flint to find out that the water source was not safe to drink four years ago,” Neeley said. “It’s equally as traumatic, or a revisitation of the trauma, when they take away what people believe is a lifeline for them. The state of Michigan and the governor’s administration has ignored the particular trauma they have inflicted on the community.”
It’s been more than 1,400 days since the start of Flint’s water crisis. Even though the governor and independent scientists have insisted the water is safe as long as it’s filtered, and even though the governor now says the water is comparable to what people drink in other cities, the entire ordeal has residents unsure if they can ever trust their local government ever again.
Many Flint residents have said the city received substandard treatment from the state partly because a majority its residents are African-American.
“To me, this is a clear example of environmental racism,” Bradley said.