Julián Castro became the first 2020 presidential candidate this weekend to visit Flint, Michigan ― a city that continues to struggle with access to clean water five years after the area’s water crisis began.
The Democrat, who is the former secretary of housing and urban development and former mayor of San Antonio, toured the city Saturday with Mayor Karen Weaver and U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.). He then held a town hall at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, and met with some local activists still fighting to ensure Flint gets clean water, according to Michigan Advance.
“Today I’m here in Flint to hear about some of the progress that’s been made in the community after the Flint water crisis,” Castro said. “And to hear about the progress that still needs to be made in the community, and to let them know that we haven’t forgotten about them ― that if I’m president, I’m going to be a president for them and to all Americans.”
The candidate also visited the First Trinity Missionary Baptist Church, which has worked to get residents clean drinking water since 2014. Actor and rapper Jaden Smith gave the church a mobile water filtration system, called the “Water Box,” that can filter 10 gallons of water in one minute.
Residents said they’re glad someone is listening to their concerns, but that they want to see concrete plans of action, according to BuzzFeed reporter Nidhi Prakash. Castro did not offer any concrete plans for the water crisis at the town hall, although the next day he did roll out a plan to “eliminate lead poisoning as a major threat” in the U.S. The plan includes establishing a presidential task force on the issue and carrying out a national assessment of communities at risk of lead poisoning.
Five years after then-Gov. Rick Snyder (R) tried to cut costs by changing Flint’s drinking water source to the Flint River, the city is still struggling with access to clean water. The city’s low-income residents of color, who were most affected by the contaminated water, tried complaining to the government, but officials initially dismissed the concerns. By 2016, the contaminated river corroded the city’s lead pipes, poisoning Flint children and resulting in a dozen deaths connected to an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality found two years ago that the lead levels in Flint’s water were below the federal threshold for harm. But residents continue to not trust government officials on what constitutes safe drinking water.
A judge ruled in April that Flint residents can proceed with a lawsuit they filed two years ago against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, alleging the federal agency mishandled the water crisis by not using its authority under the Safe Drinking Water Act to warn residents about the health risks of poisoned water.
Last week, Weaver pushed back against EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s recent claim that Flint’s water is safe to drink.
“My feelings regarding if and when I will declare the water safe for residents to drink have not changed,” Weaver said, according to ThinkProgress. “The medical community and scientific community will both have to be in agreement, after a period of testing over time, that the water is safe to drink before I ever declare it safe.”
The criminal investigation surrounding the Flint water crisis continued last week after Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel subpoenaed and seized Snyder’s cell phone and other electronics. The Republican is no longer governor of Michigan.
Flint residents were failed by officials at both the local and federal levels. The delayed response to the city’s water crisis garnered nationwide attention.
The crisis resulted in Flint being a stopping point for presidential candidates in 2016. Democrats Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton held a debate in the city, while then-candidate Donald Trump visited Bethel United Methodist Church.
Sanders did return to Flint last year, though that was before he declared he plans to run for president again in 2020.
This article has been updated to include Castro’s plan to address lead poisoning.