This past weekend, carloads of Flint, Michigan, residents waited in long lines to get the last of the free bottled water at distribution centers that will soon be closed by the state—despite the fact that the city still lacks drinkable tap water.
The free bottled water program began in January 2016 as part of a $450 million state and federal aid package, reports CNN. It costs the state $22,000 per day. On Friday (April 6), the governor announced that after the current supply runs out, it will not be replenished.
The announcement was met with criticism by city officials and those who live in the majority-Black city, who are still distrustful of the tap water. Many residents, says CNN, “have not opened their taps for years. They brush their teeth and wash their faces only using bottled water.” Michigan officials, however, justified the decision to end the program by citing tests that show lead levels in the water have not exceeded federal limits for nearly two years. Per The New York Times:
“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,” [Gov. Rick] Snyder, a Republican, said in a statement on Friday.
Flint’s mayor, Karen Weaver, said she was informed of the decision only moments before it was made public.
Previously, Weaver expressed her belief that free bottled water should be available until the city replaced all of its lead and galvanized steel lines. Many of these pipes leached lead when water from the Flint River flowed through them, leading to a replacement initiative that is not scheduled to finish until 2020. The Times states that 6,200 lines have been replaced, with an estimated 12,000 remaining.
From Weaver’s statement on the end of the water distribution program:
We did not cause the man-made water disaster, therefore adequate resources should continue being provided until the problem is fixed and all the lead and galvanized pipes have been replaced. I will be contacting the governor’s office immediately to express the insensitivity of the decision he made today and to make sure he is aware of the additional needs that I have requested for the residents of Flint.
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. According The Times, “One study published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2016 found that the percentage of Flint children with elevated levels of lead in their blood doubled after the switch, which has also been linked to 12 fatal cases of Legionnaires’ disease.” In addition, there has been a decrease in fertility and an increase in infant deaths as a result of the lead.
Last week, a report published by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality showed elevated lead levels in the water of Flint’s public schools. Approximately 4,500 children are enrolled in the city’s 13 public schools and the report stated that lead of varying amounts was detected in 44.5 percent of the samples tested throughout the school district.
“There are still questions that remain,” Dr. Pamela Pugh, Flint’s chief public health adviser, said in a statement. “We have not received clear steps as to how the remaining lead in Flint schools will be remediated or how ongoing monitoring will continue for our most vulnerable populations.”
While bottled water will no longer be free, the state will continue to provide water filters at no charge for Flint residents.