On Thursday (May 10), Mayor Karen Weaver announced that Nestlé will donate bottled water to Flint. One day later, Nestlé provided the details of its commitment. Partnering with the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan, the company will provide 4,200 cases (100,000 bottles of water) per week through Labor Day. According to MLive, this adds up to 1.6 million bottles. They will be available at three distribution centers across the city.
“We’ve been working closely with the Flint community to understand their current needs, and how we can best help meet those needs,” Jason Manshum, Ice Mountain community relations manager, told MLive. Ice Mountain is one of Nestlé’s many water brands.
On April 6, the governor of Michigan announced the state was discontinuing its distribution program, which started providing free bottled water to Flint residents in January 2016. Governor Rick Snyder said in a statement at the time, “We have worked diligently to restore the water quality and the scientific data now proves the water system is stable and the need for bottled water has ended.” Many Flint residents disagree with this assessment and continue to use only bottled water for drinking and household and hygiene tasks.
The Flint water crisis was prompted by an April 2014 decision by the city to switch Flint’s water source from the Great Lakes Water Authority to the Flint River. The change led to elevated levels of lead in residents’ blood, and the water has been linked to fatal cases of Legionnaires’ disease, a decrease in fertility and an increase in infant deaths. The city is still working to replace all of its lead and galvanized steel lines of pipes, many of which leached lead when water from the Flint River flowed through them. The replacement initiative is scheduled to be complete in 2020.
A March report published by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality showed elevated lead levels in the water of Flint’s public schools. Nestlé has been supplying bottled water to Flint public schools since January 2016, when it pledged 1.5 million bottles.
Controversially, Nestlé reportedly pays just $200 per year for access to underground aquifers in the Michigan town of Evart, just two hours from Flint. Reports The Guardian, “This is where the beverage giant Nestlé pumps almost 100,000 times what an average Michigan resident uses into plastic bottles that are sold all over the midwest for around $1.”
In April, the state of Michigan approved Nestlé’s request to nearly double the amount of water it pumps, for no additional charge. This was just four days before the governor announced the elimination of the free bottled water program for Flint.
According to Science Alert, “[Flint] residents will have to pay some of the steepest tap water prices in the country: around $200 per month for water they aren’t even sure is safe to drink.” The announcement that Nestlé would pay this same $200, but per year, has been met with outrage by Flint residents, with some announcing plans to boycott Nestlé prodcuts.