In April 2019, a July 2017 text-based status update (archived here) about a lack of clean water in Flint, Michigan continued making the rounds on social media. Across a blue sky background, white text read as follows:
1188 days still no clean water for Flint MI, all my ppl share this from everywhere please
As the Facebook post was published in July 2017 and referenced a specific timeframe (1188 days, spanning back to April 2014), readers in 2019 wondered if the claims in it still held true. Right off the bat, the meme’s date-related math checked out — April 25, 2014 is considered the date the Flint water crisis began:
On April 25, 2014 officials from Flint, Michigan switched the city’s water supply to the Flint River as a cost-cutting measure for the struggling city. In doing so, they unwittingly introduced lead-poisoned water into homes, in what would become a massive public-health crisis.
The problem started when officials decided to switch the water supply from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to the Karegnondi Water Authority to save money for the economically struggling city. Before that connection could be built, the city turned to the Flint River as a temporary water source. By May , residents were complaining that the brown water flowing into their homes looked and smelled weird, but the largely majority-African American and poor citizens went ignored by officials. In August , E.coli and coliform bacteria were detected in Flint’s water.
The defining event of the Flint crisis was a switch in area’s water supply on that date. A lack of corrosion inhibitors in water deemed more acidic than the original supply was (in part) believed to have contributed to degradation of older lead pipes, caused levels of it to leach into tap water.
As of the date it was posted, its “1188 days” metric was correct based on the date that the Flint water crisis began; claims that Flint’s water was subsequently safe to drink did not appear until April 2018. Multiple outlets reported that Michigan would no longer provide bottled water to Flint, as officials declared its water safe to drink. However, at that same time, residents of Flint disputed those claims:
After Michigan’s governor announced the state will stop providing free bottled water to residents of Flint — afflicted four years ago by lead-tainted drinking water — churches and charities said [in April 2014] they’re bracing for a surge in people seeking help…. The state’s decision to close the four remaining bottled water stations comes as Gov. Rick Snyder said [in April 2014] that strides have been made to reverse the high levels of lead that were found in the water supply.
Flint resident Barbara Davis, a secretary at Mt. Calvary Church, one of the houses of worship providing free bottled water, said there remains acrimony toward the state.
“There’s still the concern, there’s still the frustration,” Davis said. “The water still needs to be provided by the state until people are comfortable with what they’re saying. After everything, you begin to be mistrustful of what we’re being told.”
Flint resident Melissa Mays — who filed the lawsuit that led to a court-ordered agreement under which the state and federal governments are paying to replace pipes made from lead or galvanized steel — said she still cooks with bottled water.
“My water stinks. It still burns to take a shower,” she told The Associated Press. “There’s no way they can say it’s safe.”
Residents were not the only ones disputing the state’s reassurances. The American Civil Liberties Union published a piece about the issue (titled “The Flint Water Crisis Isn’t Over”) in April 2018:
Gov. Snyder’s termination of the free bottled water program has met intense resistance. Flint mayor Karen Weaver has threatened legal action. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the Flint pediatrician who proved blood lead levels in children dramatically increased after the switch to the river, tweeted that bottled water should continue to be provided until all the city’s lead service lines are replaced. Residents agree, with many expressing concerns that unfiltered tap water can still pose a significant risk.
They are right. Lead testing done by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality in February found 28 water samples in elementary schools that registered above the federal lead limit of 15 parts per billion.
But even that minimizes the real problem affecting Flint and its water supply. Because of the Flint water crisis, it’s now generally acknowledged that the federal lead limit is dangerously outdated. Lead is especially harmful to pregnant women, infants, and young children. Even at very low levels, lead can cause kids to lose IQ points and to develop learning disabilities and behavioral problems.
So it isn’t surprising that Flint’s mayor and the rest of the community remain skeptical of the governor’s declaration that the water is safe again — assurances they heard before from state officials who knew it wasn’t fit for consumption. In March 2015, Flint’s emergency manager refused to allow a return to Detroit’s system, saying there was no need because the water was “safe.”
The piece linked a tweet by Flint pediatrician Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, who was credited for proving that lead levels in children’s blood increased after the water supply was tainted in April 2014. She noted that not all lead pipes had been replaced, and not all Flint residents had safe drinking water even after Synder declared the crisis over:
This is wrong.
— Mona Hanna-Attisha (@MonaHannaA) April 6, 2018
To recap, in April 2018, Michigan’s governor declared the water in Flint safe to drink and the bottled water program was discontinued. Residents, advocacy groups, environmentalists, and civil rights activists firmly disagreed. As of December 2018, officials in Flint conceded that not all of its citizens had clean drinking water:
Flint has identified about 18,300 lead or galvanized steel water lines and has replaced nearly 7,000 of them, city officials announced [in December 2018].
The city hopes to complete replacement of all service lines that could contribute to lead contamination of the city’s water by the end of 2019, Mayor Karen Weaver announced at a press conference in Flint [in December 2018].
The Detroit News erroneously reported [in December 2018] that Flint officials planned to announce the completion of lead service line replacement at the press conference. In fact, they announced the completion of excavations that identify the type of service lines that carries water from the water system to individual homes.
State environmental regulators acknowledge there’s more work to be done.
“While the DEQ recognizes all of the local and state efforts toward replacement of service lines within the community, more work on lead and galvanized steel service line replacements will continue throughout 2019 with a goal of ensuring lead in the drinking water continues to be maintained under the federal action level,” Scott Dean, communication director at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
At the same time, the Natural Resources Defense Council disputed Weaver’s claims about the progress of efforts to replace Flint’s pipes:
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver made comments [on December 4 2018] about the status of the effort to rid the city of lead service lines which highlighted the number of excavations the city has overseen, rather than the number of actual lead lines replaced. The City is operating under a settlement that requires it to target excavations at homes most likely to have hazardous lead and steel pipes, but more than 80% of the City’s excavations this year were of homes with copper pipes. To date, the City has replaced only 7,700 lead and steel service lines, leaving University of Michigan experts to conclude that thousands of hazardous pipes likely remain in the ground.
“It’s the number of lead pipes removed that matters, not the number of holes dug. The City needs to finish the job of finding and replacing the lead pipes in Flint, as our agreement demands that they do,” says Pastor Allen C. Overton of Concerned Pastors for Social Action, a plaintiff in [a] case [against officials].
There are roughly about 2,500 lead service lines left to replace in Flint.
The homes are included in the first group of Flint addresses to be checked by contractors based on their chances of having lead or steel pipes. All the remaining homes in Flint will have their pipes dug up and checked this year, so more lead or steel service lines could be discovered. But the majority of lead pipes are expected to be in the first digs.
“Health experts recommend using a filter for at least six months,” [NRDC attorney Dimple] Chaudray said. “This is because of the construction process associated with replacements, lead can be dislodge and be flushed into your pipes and taps for at least six months.”
Mayor Karen Weaver is determined to remove all the lead from Flint, Allen Overton of the Concerned Pastors for Social Change, a plaintiff in the settlement, said.
The meme stated that as of July 2017, Flint, Michigan still did not have clean water. In April 2018, former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder declared the crisis over, but residents and their advocates strongly disputed that claim. As of April 2019, more residents in Flint had clean water, but not all of them. Most projections for the completion of necessary work to ensure clean water for Flint residents were not until sometime in 2020.
On April 15 2019, the state of Michigan announced that it planned to give $77.7 million to Flint so that the city could pay for water infrastructure projects:
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality announced a $77.7 million loan to the city. Interest will be zero percent and 100 percent of the principal will be forgiven, effectively making it a grant.
Flint Department of Public Works Director Rob Bincsik said the funding is part of the $100 million promised to the city from the federal government years ago. The funding was passed through the DEQ’s Drinking Water Revolving Fund, which is forwarding it to Flint.
Flint will use the money on the following projects:
— Completion of a pipeline hooking up to a secondary water source.
— Improvements to the Dort and Cedar Street Reservoir and Pump Station.
— Construction of a new chemical feed building.
— Replacement of the Northwest Transmission Main.
— Various water main replacement work.
— Water meter replacements.
— Water quality monitoring panels.
State officials say the funding will help ensure Flint’s water system remains compliant with laws and quality standards designed to protect public health.