What You Need To Know:
Former Republican Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, his health director and other ex-officials are being charged in a new investigation of the Flint water scandal, a disaster that exposed Michigan’s gross governmental mismanagement, devastating the majority-Black city with lead-contaminated water.
During Snyder’s term, state-appointed managers in Flint switched the city’s water to the Flint River in 2014 to save money while a pipeline was being built to Lake Huron. The water was not treated to reduce corrosion, a move that state regulators say caused lead to leach from old pipes and contaminate the water system used by nearly 100,000 residents. City officials insisted that the water was safe to drink, despite the odor and brown color of the water that flowed from taps throughout the city.
The Flint water crisis made national headlines after photos and videos circulated of residents lining up for bottled water. Parents feared that their children had suffered permanent harm from ingesting lead, which can damage the brain and nervous system and spark learning and behavior problems. The Flint water crisis became an example of environmental injustice and racism that exists in the U.S.
In addition, bacteria in the water were to blame for a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, an illness that triggers a severe form of pneumonia. Authorities counted at least 90 cases in Genesee County. Twelve people died from the disease.
The outbreak was announced by Snyder and Lyon in January 2016, although Lyon said that he knew that cases were being reported many months earlier.
In 2018, Lyon was ordered to stand trial on involuntary manslaughter charges after a special prosecutor accused him of failing to inform the public about the outbreak in a timely manner. His attorneys argued there wasn’t enough reliable information to share earlier.
In June 2019, the entire Flint water investigation halted after prosecutors working under a new attorney general dismissed the case against Lyon as well as charges against seven more people. The investigation would be restarted, prosecutors said, because all available evidence was not pursued by the previous team of prosecutors.
Although the nature of the latest charges is not known, defense lawyers for Synder, former health department director Nick Lyon and others in his administration, have been notified and told to expect court appearances soon.
LeeAnne Walters, a mother of four who is credited with exposing the lead contamination, said she wants details about the charges.
“The very fact that people are being held accountable is an amazing feat,” Walters said. “But when people’s lives have been lost and children have been severely hurt, it doesn’t seem like enough.”
Why We Need To Know:
The impact of the damage inflicted upon Black and brown residents by Flint and Michigan leadership extends far beyond water. Because of a lack of trust, many Flint residents of color are reluctant to get the coronavirus vaccine, despite its potentially life-saving ability.
“When you tell us that the water is safe but it really wasn’t, that relationship between leadership and the community is still damaged,” said Todd Womack, the pastor of community connections at Central Church of the Nazarene in Flint. “That just layers the historical trauma that has presented itself in our community.”