Venkataraman B. January 2018. The Paradox of Water and the Flint Crisis. Environment Magazine. 60(1): 4-17. (Venkataraman 2018)
Bhawani Venkataraman cites a statistic reported by the United Nations Joint Monitoring Program claiming that of the 42 countries in the world that provide 100% of its citizens access to clean water, the United States is not one of them. In fact, the United States denies about 2.5 million people the right to access clean water. A large amount of these people were victims of the Flint Water Crisis. This article seeks to answer the question of what lead to the Flint Crisis and how to avoid crises like this in the future, and it does so by means of reports and retrospective analysis.
The issue of water crises like what occurred in Flint lies in the inherent paradox of water; the same properties that make water essential to providing and sustaining life make it vulnerable to contamination and spreading waterborne diseases. Awareness of this paradox calls political institutions to realize how easy it is for water to be contaminated. Ignorance of this paradox allowed the governor of Michigan to appoint an emergency manager to oversee the budgetary appropriations in 2011, and this emergency manager took it upon himself to lower deficit by curtailing the water budget. Instead of using the Detroit Water and Sewage Department as the primary provider of water for the citizens, the emergency manager switched to other unprepared sources as the Flint River was getting contaminated. The disorganization of this fiasco snowballed into the Flint, Michigan Water Crisis which left the entire city defenseless against unsafe drinking water.
In order to determine the main causes of this crisis, the failures of the Flint Water Service Center (FWSC) was assessed from monthly operating reports, reports from an engineering company, and water quality reports from Flint, Michigan. These records uncovered a great lack of attention to the fact that the necessary chemicals for treating water (like chlorine) were missing in great amounts in the Flint water. Upon conducting retrospective analysis of these records, parameters used to treat the water and determine its cleanliness and safety were completely inaccurate. While these mistakes lead up to the crisis, in the midst of the crisis the plant personnel were not well trained and understaffed, which lead them to address the issue with trial and error solutions that simply did not work.
One of the most harrowing conclusions drawn from this testimony is that this crisis can be labeled as an environmental crime. Flint, Michigan has a history of low-income communities and people, as well as comparatively high percentages of minorities. Many scholars contend that the reason this crisis receives so little attention is because of the fact that if wealthier people more representative of majority demographics lived here, the crisis would be treated a lot faster and with greater care. Environmental injustice plagues our nation as people all over the United States struggle to find access to clean water, and Flint, Michigan is just one example of how our political institutions actively neglect these people and their right to live.