The Flint drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan began in April 2014 after Flint changed its water source from treated Detroit Water and Sewerage Department water (from Lake Huron and the Detroit River) to the Flint River.
The Flint River water supply had corrosive agents, causing deterioration of water supply lines, with lead leaching into the drinking water supply. In Flint, between 6,000 and 12,000 children have been exposed to drinking water with high levels of lead which may result in serious health problems. The water change is also a possible cause of an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the county that has killed 10 people and affected another 77.
According to a New York Times event timeline, it wasn’t until well over a year into the crisis, in October 2015 that Flint City health officials warned affected residents to stop drinking water and ordered the distribution of filters, the testing of water in schools, and the expansion of water and blood testing.
While federal officials and many scientists agree that most of the 53,000 community water systems in the US are safe for drinking, events like the Flint water crisis or the Gold King Mine accident, are a reminder that every drinking water system has potential safety risks. And even when these risks are known, remediation efforts can sometimes backfire, or budgetary concerns can lead to poor decisions, leaving people’s health and livelihood at risk.
How to protect your drinking water
Clean water is something we often take for granted. We assume when we turn on the tap, safe water comes out, often without knowing where it comes from or who is responsible for delivering it. In the case of the Flint water crisis, it took an informed and active community effort to bring to public the health risks of their drinking water supply. Unfortunately, the government response was too late to prevent significant damage to the water supply infrastructure, and potentially serious health problems for those affected.
So how can you protect your drinking water? Here is a quick summary from our drinking water guide.
- Get your drinking water tested: Whether you have well water or municipal water, get it tested by a lab certified in your state.
- Treat your water in home: invest in a water filtration system that can filter out lead and other contaminates that may leach into your drinking water. It is important to note that with any filtration system, contaminate reduction will slowly diminish over time, which is why it is recommended to change your filter on a regular basis.
- Find your water source: If you know where your water comes from, you can find out what risks are affecting your watershed. It may be old mines, industrial pollution, agricultural runoff, etc.. More on how to find those risks in the next steps.
- Find out who provides your water, their infrastructure, and reporting: In the case of well owners, you essentially provide your water. So learn what type of well you have, have it inspected, and have your drinking water tested for contamination. In the case of municipal water, follow our drinking water guide to ask the right questions.
- Get Involved, Stay Informed: Donate your time or money to citizen based groups that are dedicated to protecting your waterways. Contact your state legislature and congressional representatives regarding your concerns. Learn how to find these contacts here.
- Unsafe Lead Levels in Tap Water Not Limited to Flint, New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/09/us/regulatory-gaps-leave-unsafe-lead-levels-in-water-nationwide.html
- Events That Led to Flint’s Water Crisis, New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/01/21/us/flint-lead-water-timeline.html