Flint Water Crisis: A Cautionary Tale

It's been almost a decade since the events that transpired at Flint, MI, became national news. In many ways, Flint became a cautionary tale for communities that rely heavily on third-party providers for quality basic supplies, and the poster child for those who fight for more environmental awareness in politics.

Water availability has always been a precondition for community building. Most towns and cities were built around or close to a reliable source of drinking water, and the brunt of their communal efforts is usually directed at expanding or bettering their hydric capacity.

However, as water sourcing becomes more complex, we tend to rely on our authorities for water distribution and quality control. Unfortunately, they sometimes let things slip in situations like aging municipal pipes, water source contamination, neglected treatment facilities, with dangerous consequences.

This is exactly what happened in 2014 in Flint, Michigan.

The Flint Crisis
There was a time when the city of Flint was known as the Vehicle city. Back in the 19th century, it was an important supplier of horse-drawn carriages. Big companies like Flint Wagon Works were world-renowned for their quality carts, and the 20th century saw an industrial expansion in the city, making it the birthplace of General Motors and the massive Buick City automobile manufacturing complex.

So, in many ways, Flint was way ahead of the technological curve and the quality of life it offered to its citizens.

As was customary, most of the water service lines built from 1901 to 1920 were made of lead. This had been a real concern for decades since lead is a very dangerous material that can leach into the water and food supplies and can potentially cause a lot of health problems. However, the water was well treated with anti-corrosive agents that kept lead levels below what the CDC set as “safe” levels.

Given the increased demand, Flint would start buying their drinking water supply from the city of Detroit in 1967, leaving the Flint River as a secondary or emergency water source.

However, the last few decades of the century brought a steep economic decline that would continue well into the 21st century. This would cause the city to start having problems with the upkeep of vital services.

In 2014, the cash-strapped city of Flint decided to unilaterally switch the drinking water supply to the Flint River to save money. They stopped buying adequately treated water from Lake Huron, one of the five Great Lakes that supply fresh water to millions of North Americans and started treating water extracted from the Flint River.

Almost immediately, city residents began complaining about drastic changes in the quality of the water that was coming out from their faucets. The taste and odor had radically changed, and many reported an unnerving alteration in the color and texture of water. These changes were due largely to accelerated pipe corrosion, which also indicated there was an alarming increase in lead levels.

By October of that year, General Motors announced they would stop using the city's water in their processes citing extensive corrosive damage to the cart parts produced at their plant.

But corrosion was not the only cause for worry. Between 2014 and 2015 there was an outbreak of Legionnaires disease, a form of pneumonia that can be fatal, that some traced back to the Flint River. Authorities decided to pour in additional chlorine in response. However, chlorine does not mask water impurities and can even be dangerous in elevated quantities. Moreover, in an attempt to keep cutting corners, it was decided not to add the needed corrosion inhibitor to the water supply.

Authorities later recommended citizens take measures like boiling water before drinking or using it for cooking. This of course raised the alarm for many residents and experts who correctly interpreted this as a sign that things were not going to improve any time soon.

Numerous studies found extremely high levels of cancer-causing chemicals such as lead and total trihalomethanes (TTHM), and harmful bacteria. This spurred residents towards decisive legal actions.

However, these would not reverse the fact that close to 9,000 children were exposed to lead-contaminated water for more than 18 months and we are still to see the long-term effects of this tragedy.

In the end, the city of Flint did fix its water problem by incurring costly water pipe replacement works and education programs, a regular supply of free bottled water, and comprehensive health programs.

What Lessons Can We Gather From Flint?
In 2018, authorities declared that the quality of the water in Flint had improved dramatically. It is said that Flint water now contains lead levels way below what the EPA considers safe. However, people in the area (and in many places in North America) are now wary of what authorities deem safe.

Even after replacing more than 10,000 lead pipes and performing extensive testing, public trust is very low in the area, and people are looking for ways to ensure they have more reliable access to safe water by installing their own faucet filters at home.

The Flint crisis demonstrated that even assuming our authorities have our best interests in mind, the only way to guarantee our drinking water is safe is by installing high-quality water filtration systems that can safely remove harmful contaminants and bacteria that could inadvertently seep into our water supply.

What Can You Do To Make Sure Your Water Is Safe?
If you are concerned about harmful contaminants such as lead, TTHM, matriculate matter, and bacteria, you should install a water filter designed to drastically reduce these contaminants, and provide fresh and great tasting water on demand.

Our Pentair Everpure H104 water system provides commercial-grade water quality and an exclusive precoat filtration technology that allows it to trap particles as small as 0.5 microns, ensuring a more efficient filtering and reduced costs when compared to bottled water. If you have questions about our products or would like more information about their properties and specifications, reach out to us at info@efilters.net.