During the winter semester, I wrote an article including a series of interviews with members of the Eastern Michigan University that were affected by the Flint water crisis.
This summer I followed up on the four interviewees that were included in the article to see if anything has changed about their situation. Included was Desmond Miller, a former EMU Student Body President; alumni Eric Suppert; Lolita Cummings-Carson, a public relations professor; and public relations student Stevie Newton. For the follow up they were asked a number of questions in an e-mail interviews – here are their responses.
Q. – Has there been any change in the water, for better or worse?
- A. Sippert – At this point it is pretty unclear what is going on with the level. Although government agencies have claimed that is fine and President Obama even drank the water when he visited, many residents are still reporting issues and other non-government tests have come back with problems. On July 7, Genesee County issued warnings about high levels of bacteria, which has already caused at least twelve deaths in the city from legionella. Groups like "Water You Fighting For?" are now claiming that this bacteria could cause a dysentery outbreak in Flint as well. No matter what happens, I don't think people will trust the safety of the water for a very long time. The local, state, and even federal government have shown that they are not giving trustworthy results and people are rightly fed up and distrustful.
- A. Miller – Nothing has really changed. The water is still unsafe and from what I know, not getting better or worse.
- A. Lolita-Cummings – I don't know. No one does, really. I'm not sure the water is cleaner and lead free, but residents have access to more information that tells them which homes have lead-laced water and which ones don't. But that gets hairy too because most residents of Flint don't trust the information they're getting from the government. They've been lied to before, so they have learned to be distrustful and suspicious of the information they're getting. So even though officials are saying the water is safe to drink with filters, many people don't believe it, so they're still bathing, cooking and drinking bottled water.
- A.Newton – Since I am not in Flint all of the time, it is hard for me to access that personally. From what I have read and what my family has said, the media and government officials are declaring that the water is getting better and can be used for more practical things such as cooking. I know that my family refuses to do such. They strictly use the water only for showers and laundry.
Q. – The media's attention has definitely drifted from Flint. Do you see anyone still covering it, other than the Flint Journal?
- A. Sippert – I've seen very few outlets still covering it. Most of the work reporting the crisis, including now, has also fallen on social media outlets that are run by community groups.
- A. Newton – The only thing I see about Flint in the media is all of the shootings that have been happening lately. It is like the water situation is now irrelevant even though the issues are still present.
- A. Miller – The last media outlet I saw covering the situation was CNN, I believe back in March/April. Beyond that, it's only be young millennials on Twitter reporting it.
- A. Lolita-Cummings – I think it's mostly the Flint and Detroit papers. Every now and then I see others covering it, but not nearly as much as they did months ago. It was nice to hear Jesse Williams refer to the water crisis in his acceptance speech for the Humanitarian Award at last month's BET Awards Ceremony.
Q. – Do you feel like the people in charge are taking responsibility?
- A. Sippert – Absolutely not. Governor Snyder is still governor. The emergency manager law is still in place. Absolutely no responsibility has been taken by those at the top. In addition, Governor Snyder recently appointed a BP lobbyist as the head of MDEQ (Michigan Department of Environmental Quality). It's increasingly clear that Snyder and his administration as well as the federal government could care less about the plight of Flint.
- A. Lolita-Cummings – None of the people in positions of power, especially Governor Snyder, are accepting responsibility for the water crisis. No one is stepping up and saying "I screwed up" without trying to qualify that apology with dishonest explanations and blame shifts. No one. For me, that lack of accountability just adds another layer of insult to this entire mess. It's bad enough they poisoned the water supply for an entire city, but now, no one wants to say they had a hand in doing so. You'd better believe that if the move to Flint River water had been successful, they'd all be tripping over themselves to take credit for their grand idea. As it is, when it comes to accepting responsibility all we're hearing is crickets.
- A. Miller – No. Have they stood at a podium and acknowledged it’s their responsibility to fix this crisis for residents? Yes. Have they actually put their words into action and done something about it? No. Yes, the first step to take responsibility is admitting fault but they're forgetting the part where they have to do something to rectify the situation.
- A.Newton – The blame is being pushed around. I have not heard one person step forward and take some fault - they would be hated if they did but there would be a sense of respect for that person. The city is looking for someone to take the blame, apologize, and make things right.
Q. – Are you frustrated?
- A. Lolita-Cummings – Absolutely! Everyone within the city -- and beyond-- is more than frustrated. It still baffles my mind that governmental officials had the audacity to poison the water supply for an entire city -- all in an effort to save dollars. And, now, that much of the attention has moved on, no one is really beating the door down to clean up the mess. Honestly, I don't think they have the first idea about how they're going to resolve the problems they clearly created.
- A. Miller – Very. Not only for my family and friends that I know, but I'm frustrated for my fellow "Flintstones" that I don't know. This is a horrible situation. To not be able to safely consume and use something as an essential and basic as water, is inhumane. Especially for it to occur in America.
- A.Newton – Of course I am frustrated. If you’re not, or anyone else, I found that to be very inhumane. Flint was a city that was rising from the ashes. Back in the day, people were rushing to move to the city and be a part of General Motors. Then we went through the depression. These past couple of years, there have been several efforts to make Flint great again. Then, the water crisis. All of the progress made was lost and now people cannot pack fast enough to get away.
- A. Sippert – *No direct response.*
Q. – Who do you think should take responsibility?
- A. Lolita-Cummings – For me, it all starts with Governor Snyder. For now, the attorney general has filed charges against a Flint city water employee and two Michigan DEQ employees, but I don't think the investigation can end without charges against Governor Rick Snyder. He and his emergency managers put this entire fiasco in motion and they must be held accountable for doing so.
- A. Sippert – I think that Snyder still bears the primary responsibility for the crisis as well as the Emergency Managers he appointed for Flint. In addition, the federal response to the crisis was pathetic. President Obama did little to nothing to help with the crisis. FEMA should have been sent out immediately and there should have been and should be now army corps engineers replacing the pipes. President Obama's drinking of the water, while people are still at risk is also extremely irresponsible and just shows how little he knows or cares about the crisis.
- A. Miller – The Governor and city council members. He may not have officially been the decision maker to vote to change the water; but he did appoint the emergency manager who made the decision, along with city council. Council members need to be held accountable because they voted to switch to the Flint River. Many of them seeing how disgusting the water has looked for years, still made the decision to vote yes. The current mayor, Dr. Karen Weaver, is working hard to fix the situation, despite her not being elected at the time of the switch, which is commendable.
- A. Newton – Even though he may not have direct responsibility, I think it would be admirable if Governor Snyder took the fall. At the end of the day, he was electing to make decisions that our best for our city and he failed to do so. He had to know what was going on, and it was unfair to let the citizens know.
Q. - Could you tell me a story about your experience, or a family member's experience with the water crisis?
- A. Lolita-Cummings – I was just talking to a friend the other day and she said she has bottled water stacked 6-feet high in her basement. She still uses bottled water for everything -- bathing, cooking and drinking. That's not only grossly inconvenient, it will soon be quite expensive. From what I'm told, residents will no longer have access to free bottled water in a few months, but most still don't feel like the water coming from their faucets is safe. That means the most vulnerable without the ability to pay will then be forced to use the city water, while others will be coming out of their pockets for bottled water while also paying exorbitant prices for Flint City water. It's crazy.
- A. Sippert – *Did not answer directly.*
- A. Miller – I spoke with a family member to talk about her experience and she talked to me about one of her young grandchildren getting a bath and trying to drink the water and her having to repeatedly stop them from drinking. Something so simple that many of us did when we were kids, this young child can't do because of a decision made beyond their control. It’s sickening. Some of my family members and friends live in fear of running out of water bottles to use to cook and drink.
- A.Newton – I moved away from Flint two years ago. I still visit frequently to stay with my parents, sister, and friends. I am not used to living in the conditions that they are so my habits do not correlate. My mom was sick and asked me to get her a cup of water. I grabbed a cup, got some ice out of the ice maker, went to the sink, and filled the cup with water. When I gave it to her, she asked, “Is this water from the sink? Where did you get the ice?” Once I told her, she asked that I dump the ice, and use bottled water, so that’s what I did. When I brought it to her, she asked if I rinsed the cup with bottled water before I poured new water into the cup. I did not. I had to do the whole process over again. It just shows the extremes that people are living in. My parents live in an area code that was not affected as much as the others but they still have all of these crazy precautions.
Q– What about now, are things getting better or worse?
- A.Newton – In the eyes of outsiders, things are getting better. For those living in the city, they are at a standstill. Cases of water are no longer being provided, and they are told that the water is safe, but how can they trust that after what they have been through?
- A. Sippert – Things certainly have not gotten better. I think they are continually bad. It is worse in the sense that there is now no media attention, but the media attention didn't actually do that much in the first place. Unfortunately, Flint is a very easy city for the country to ignore. It's had one of the highest crime rates for years and is one of the most extreme examples of postindustrial collapse. As some authors from Flint noted during the crisis, the big surprise was that people cared at all about the crisis. Thing have been steadily getting worse and worse for years and this is in many ways just a speeding up of that process. I think that the worst is still to come. Flint now has a population of children with all of the negative effects of lead poisoning and none of the institutional support needed to combat that. What happens when they reach adulthood? The addition of the effects of water crisis on all of the structural constraints residents of Flint already face is a recipe for disaster.
- A. Miller – From what I hear, it’s getting a little bit better. Some homes have gotten new pipes. Unfortunately, those were the homes that didn't need to be fixed right away and weren't the homes where young kids live.
- A. Lolita-Cummings – *Did not answer directly.*
The city is at a crossroads. Michigan Attorney-General Bill Schuette announced additional criminal charges against six employees in the Flint Water Crisis on July 29. According to the Detroit News, employees treated Flint residents as expendable.
“Their offenses vary but there is an overall theme and repeated pattern. Each of these individuals attempted to bury, or cover up, to downplay or to hide information that contradicted their own narrative story,” The News quoted Schuette saying in a press conference, early Friday afternoon.
Calls have been made for Governor Snyder’s resignation and arrest. The governor has testified before Congress on the matter. Time can only tell if this real life crisis will ever come to a complete end and if Flint citizens will ever see justice.