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Flint Residents Are Not Ready to Trust the Government Again

Officials said lead levels have dropped in Flint's water, but an inconclusive federal investigation has residents on edge.

Meredith Rutland Bauer

Meredith Rutland Bauer

Image: Shutterstock

The Associated Press reported this week that Flint, Michigan's water was finally found to be below federal lead standards and now safe to consume. But for Flint residents, there is still a long way to go before they trust the government again.

This past December, three years after Flint, Michigan, stopped getting clean water through their public water system, the GOP-led House of Representatives quietly closed the investigation into high levels of lead detected in Flint's water supply in 2014, the Associated Press reported. This comes before any conclusions were made as to who should be held responsible for the crisis.

"It's a slap in the face to the people of Flint to rush and close it when we didn't really see any justice done," Flint resident Lulu Brezzell told me. "At this point, it's hard not to feel like we've been forgotten."

Brezzell said her family still relies on bottled water for drinking and cooking because even though her tap water was recently declared lead-free, it still has a host of problems. She said her tap water smells like bleach, gives them headaches if they drink it and leaves rashes on their skin after a five-minute shower.

Read More: Flint Is Going Into Its Third Year Without Clean Water

Meanwhile, the end of the House's yearlong investigation was capped with a final report that blamed the state environmental protection department and US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which the committee had already stated in several hearings earlier in the investigation.

"The committee found significant problems at Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality and unacceptable delays in the Environmental Protection Agency's response to the crisis," wrote Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah). "The committee also found that the federal regulatory framework is so outdated that it sets up states to fail."

But this is not the whole picture. A separate civil lawsuit in Flint also accused engineering firm Lockwood, Andrews and Newnam and other related companies, and six Michigan state employees were criminally charged for negligence or altering data.

Flint's water crisis began three years ago after local water officials decided to change the source of the area's drinking water from Lake Huron to the Flint River. The river water was corrosive, and slowly ate away at the city's old lead pipes. As a result, the corroded pipes leached high amounts of lead into the water, and flowed into people's faucets.

Children in Flint began testing positive for lead, which can cause cognitive delays in developing brains, and the mayor of Flint declared a state of emergency in 2015. Since then, residents have been relying on bottled water for everyday needs—although lead levels have been decreasing recently in the city. As per the recent report, the lead levels have now dropped from 15 parts per billion to 12 parts per billion, comparable to other US cities.

Congress approved $170 million in funding in mid-December for the beleaguered Michigan city, but residents are still waiting to see the government take action. And now with a new administration in place, Flint residents are also concerned what a Donald Trump presidency will mean for access to clean water. Trump has emphatically denounced the EPA and said he wants to shut it down. Doing so could threaten implementation of the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, both of which regulate the amount of lead allowed in drinking water.

Brezzell said the House's investigation ended without closure—such as an effort to hold parties responsible for the water crisis accountable.

"I think that people outside of Flint aren't aware that Flint is still an issue," she said.

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