When discussing environmentalism, mainstream discourse addresses the human race’s part in destroying ecosystems and endangering both wildlife and our planet. Rarely do we bring attention to the humans that are victims of environmental disasters at the hands of our own corrupt governments. The current environmental disaster state of Flint, Michigan isn’t just troubling, it is devastating: the city’s population has been consuming toxic, lead-contaminated water for years under the knowledge of its negligent government.
Flint previously obtained water from Detroit’s clean water system until 2014 when former emergency manager Darnell Earley transferred Flint’s water system to the corrosive and unsafe Flint River water. Multiple government officials refused to return back to Detroit’s safe water system—citing its high cost—despite multiple claims that Flint River water was dangerous. One such claim from a nearby General Motors plant said the water was so corrosive that it rusted the plant’s car parts.
Current Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder appointed relevant officials on the matter—such as the emergency managers—in 2012. Thus, many of the harmful decisions resulting in the toxic water disaster lead back to Snyder’s apathetic and corrupt administration that has yet to face consequences for its abuse of power.
Recently, residents of Flint were able to garner national attention for their situation through social media. Residents tweeted pictures of the brown and yellow water that came from their faucets and pictures of rashes and skin lesions caused by toxic water consumption. A state of emergency was not announced in Flint until Jan. 5 of this year—making us question whether the Snyder administration would have continued to sweep the issue under the rug if not for the national attention.
Beyond the issue of an apathetic government is the mistreatment of poor, minority communities in major cities. According to the United States Census Bureau, Flint’s population is 56.6 percent black and 41.5 percent of the community lives below the poverty line. It is not uncommon for poor communities to be mistreated and exploited by local governments; they often lack the capital and resources to defend themselves against this corruption. Additionally, undocumented immigrants in Flint have been continually denied access to free cases of bottled water as proof of identification is required to receive the water.
This suspiciously sounds like a case of environmental racism. The local government did not seem to care about the health and safety of a poor minority community until it was called out publicly and pressured by more powerful officials from around the country. It also did not efficiently disclose information to residents who do not understand English, thus letting some residents continue to consume the dangerous water without knowing.
For Snyder’s administration, this issue is more about remorse for getting caught rather than a desire to help victims. Celebrities and nonprofits around the country are donating money and thousands of cases of water to help Flint residents, as it is currently unknown how or when the problem will be solved.
The federal emergency aid to Flint is currently capped at $5 million and mostly covers the cost of water filters and filter cartridges for residents. Not only should Snyder be impeached, but President Barack Obama should convince Congress to allocate more funds to help Flint. Money should be put toward adding Flint back to Detroit’s water system and making concrete plans for future, safe water systems.
It is not enough to just work with the Snyder administration to alleviate their disastrous actions. Changes need to be made not only within the local Flint government, but in greater federal laws to protect the residents of poor cities from becoming victims of failing infrastructure.