The first and probably most important lesson to learn from the water crisis coming out of Flint, Michigan in the United States, apart from the cruelty and neglect by man, is the devastating reminder of how closely human health is intertwined with the environment. We are just seeing how much the damaging consequences of a broken environment are all around us.
So what happened in Flint some may ask. Put simply, many children now have an elevated level of lead in their body because state officials ignored series of complaints about and investigation into the water source that was servicing thousand of homes in the region.
The problem began in April 2014, after the city switched its water source and started pulling water from a local river as a cost-saving measure.
After switching to the river water, Flint officials did not add corrosion controls and the state, incorrectly, advised them that federal guidelines did not immediately require them.
The controls would have helped prevent leaching from the city’s old lead pipes, which gave rise to elevated lead levels in the water supply.
Almost immediately, residents levied complaints about the smelly, discolored and disgusting fluid that was now flowing into their households.
But nothing was done. Fast forward thousands of warning emails by concerned officials and scientists to the state, public hearings, criminal investigations, an ineffective government warning for residents to boil their water and fears of liver and kidney issues; governor Rick Snyder admitted the situation was far graver than he initially understood and announced a $12m plan to transfer Flint back to its previous water supply. A task force has also been set up to investigate what caused the crisis.
Still, a great deal of damage has been done.
Back to the lessons from Flint about the environment. The world around us evolved as we do, an evolution that is greatly determined by our actions and inactions. The water wasn’t poisoned from the beginning, it became poisoned as a result of the heavy lead content in our pipes and the chemicals we keep dumping into the river.
So as we watch the scandal unfold, let’s wonder how many other similar cases exist in many cities around the world and how soon would water no longer be a natural resource.