Ongoing testing has found that lead levels in the water system of Flint, Michigan, have finally dropped below federal limits after the city reached its one thousandth day without drinkable water last week. For the moment, residents are still being advised to use filtered water for drinking and cooking, with the city still working to replace thousands of lead lines still in place.
The director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Heidi Grether, said:
“This is good news and the result of many partners on the local, county, state and federal levels working together to restore the water quality in the City of Flint. The Flint water system is one of the most monitored systems in the country for lead and copper, and we remain committed to continuing work in Flint as the city recovers.”
However, the incremental progress is unlikely to do much to heal the wounds and mistrust of government after decades of economic decline in what was at point a manufacturing hub, with many residents still unconvinced that the crisis is nearing an end.
Mona Hanna-Attisha, who helped to expose the crisis and the rising blood level rates in Flint’s schoolchildren over a year ago, said “It is nowhere near the end of the story.”
“Once those lead pipes are replaced, then hopefully the people of Flint will regain the trust that has been shattered in their drinking water,” she added.
However, that process is likely to take years, necessitating the continued use of water filters by residents.
After officials repeatedly told residents the water was perfectly healthy at the start of the crisis, ignoring mounting evidence otherwise, residents are likely to remain skeptical towards claims that the water is safe.
The water crisis ranks among the worst environmental crises in United States history, in a city of almost 100,000 people, 40 percent of whom live under the poverty line. The exposure to tainted water continued virtually unaddressed for months. The exposure affected children under the age of 6, who are considered the most vulnerable to the problems that come from lead poisoning, which can lead to lasting physical and cognitive impairment in such cases.
The city had been purchasing water from the city of Detroit, but began using water from the long-polluted Flint River in early 2014, under an emergency manager appointed by Governor Rick Snyder. After water officials neglected to use chemicals that prevent the corrosion of pipes, rust, iron, and lead began to contaminate the water as it was pumped into homes. Residents began complaining of the smell and appearance of the water, and reporting rashes and hair loss. For the most part, government officials ignored the reports for months.