|Type of paper:
|Ecology Water Pollution Community health
Between 2014 and 2015, the city of Flint, Michigan, experienced a severe water crisis after failing to properly treat the municipal water system after the source of water was changed (Campbell et al. 1). It triggered high levels of lead in the water, which also increased the blood lead levels in the members of this society, more so in children. When children are exposed to high lead levels, their intelligence level is impacted, as well as the healthy development, attention, and other neurological functions. The inability to offer safe drinking water to the public represented a failure to protect public health at various levels.
The people who were drinking this contaminated water had no idea that the blood lead levels were elevated. It was only after medical tests that this fact was proven. Therefore, if this contamination of the water source had not been made public, these individuals would not have suspected anything, and the lead exposure would continue (Campbell et al. 2). This disaster was a result of the move from Lake Huron to the Flint River as a water source.
The new source had not been treated with the chemicals needed to prevent lead particles and solubilized components from getting into the water pipes. The water source was already known to be so corrosive that the nearby industries avoided it altogether. According to the Environmental Protection Agency's Lead and Copper Rule, a new water supply must be treated to control for the lead components (Campbell et al. 2). Unfortunately, this was not followed by the government as required.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) made a mistake when it inaccurately passed the Flint water as safe for human consumption. The same findings were immediately assumed by other agencies who would have managed to identify the problem. While the government officials may have hoped to save costs secretly by stating that the Flint water source as safe, it only ended up incurring extra costs. Lead poisoning costs are quite high, just like the savings which would have been experienced by seeking to prevent this poisoning. In the United States, the economic costs are estimated at $50.9 (Campbell et al. 3). Each dollar invested in the prevention of lead contamination triggers a return of around $17-$221 (Campbell et al. 3).
Demographics of the area
In Flint, Michigan, the African Americans make up 53.7% of the population while the Whites account for 39.7% ("U.S. Census Bureau Quickfacts" 1). As of the year 2010, the population was estimated to be 102, 434 ("U.S. Census Bureau Quickfacts" 1). Approximately 7.6% of this population features children aged five years and below, while those under the age of 18 made up 25.6% of the population ("U.S. Census Bureau Quickfacts" 1). The statistics show that there are many children and African Americans who were exposed to lead contamination. The fact that there were fewer Whites than African Americans sets the base for environmental injustice since the minority group is the one being significantly impacted.
Key actors/institutions involved
There are many key players involved in the Flint Water Crisis. First, the state government is a key player since it decided to switch the water sources without the necessary research and actions needed to ensure public safety. Also, it took the initiative to reconnect the region to the Detroit water source after the issue of lead contamination was made public (Campbell et al. 4). The local government and lawmakers are also key actors because they get to decide which regulations are to be followed to ensure the safety of the public.
Second, the government agencies are also key actors since they were responsible for assuring the people that they were using safe water. They were charged with carrying out the research and analysis to prove the safety of the water before the change was made. Also, one of the agencies was responsible for identifying that there was a problem with the water source, indicating that it was contaminated with lead (Delisle and Ellen 7). The U.S Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for establishing rules and regulations meant to ensure safety standards in the products offered to the public.
The activists were also key actors in this crisis because they helped to push for justice for the people who were afflicted. Without their input, it would have been impossible for those affected to get an understanding of what their options were in light of the link between the water source and their impacted health statuses.
Victims and costs of the event
The Flint water crisis victims include all the residents of the region who amount to approximately 95,000 individuals (Dolan 2). The parents and children who have already consumed the poisoned water will face future health issues as a result of the heightened lead blood levels. The cost of the water crisis was expected to be high. To replace the pipes that have already been exposed to lead, approximately $275 billion would be needed (Dolan 4). The entire sector needs $385 billion in infrastructure to introduce improvements in the water system (Dolan 5).
Responses by government and local community groups
After the issue was made public, the government and local community groups responded immediately. The government focused on the laying off of various government officials who were in charge of ensuring that regulations were followed in the research and implementation of the change in water source (Dolan 7). The local community groups responded by pushing for justice and the right compensation for the victims of this water crisis.
How this fits into the Environmental Justice Framework
The Flint water crisis represents environmental injustice since those who were majorly affected included the African-American pollution living in poverty. There is speculation on whether such an error would have occurred if the population was different (Delisle and Ellen 10). That is why it is also considered to be a form of racism. No measures were taken to ensure the safety of this population, probably because it consisted of the poor African Americans. The level of attention needed was not provided, leading to the risk of various illnesses future.
The role of the SMO in the conflict
Various social movement organizations focused on addressing this issue. For example, the Flint-Rising is an SMO which pushes for water equity by arguing that the people of this region have equal rights as everyone else to access safe water for domestic use and consumption (Delisle and Ellen 12). Such SMOs have played a role in the conflict by pushing for amendments of regulations and the punishment of those who were not keen on their job roles. They have also advocated for those who continue to experience side effects of the lead exposure, years after the incident occurred.
To obtain the resources needed to further their agendas, the SMOs tend to use researchers and individual activists who are also experts in the field of environmental safety. The findings from the research shows that there was no proof that the water was safe for consumption. However, the government officials still argued that it was safe, thereby encourage the citizens to drink and use it. The activists also have strong arguments in support of the unjustifiable error that occurred (Delisle and Ellen 13). It could have been avoided if the matter was given the seriousness it needed had it been targeted to other areas of the country where the elites reside.
The political opportunity structure
In the current situation, a political opportunity structure existed, which pushed for the need for public health and safety. The fact that many individuals from the African American community were affected by this move supported the need for equity in water resources (Fuller 30). The town featured those who were living in poverty and were unable to speak up for their rights to be compensated. That is what created the need for establishing social movement organizations that spoke and pushed for compensations on their behalf.
The framing the SMO engaged in as well as framing used by other actors
Both the SMO and some other actors used a similar framing after the issue had been made public. They argued that this mistake had occurred as a result of injustice to this particular community, which was not being given the level of attention and equality it deserved (Campbell 4). Other actors, on the other hand, assumed that the community would not know that the right measures to treat the water source had not been considered.
The success or failure of the SMO
The SMO became successful in pushing for justice for this particular community. The government was forced to take action by introducing a new water source that was of high quality and safety as every other source is distributed in the country. The culprits who triggered this crisis were also punished by getting fired from their job positions. Lastly, measures were taken to promote the safety of future water sources by introducing improvements that would prevent a similar occurrence.
"U.S. Census Bureau Quickfacts: Flint City, Michigan." Census Bureau Quickfacts, 2020, p.1. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/flintcitymichigan/RHI125218#RHI125218.
Campbell, Carla et al. "A Case Study of Environmental Injustice: The Failure in Flint." International journal of environmental research and public health vol. 13, 10, pp. 1-11. 27 Sep. 2016. doi:10.3390/ijerph13100951
Delisle, Louise, and Ellen Sweeney. "Community Mobilization to Address Environmental Racism: The South End Environmental Injustice Society." Kalfou, vol 5, no. 2, 2018. Temple University Press, doi:10.15367/kf.v5i2.216.
Dolan, Matthew. "Flint Water Crisis Could Cost U.S. $300 Billion". Usatoday, 2016, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2016/03/05/flint-water-crisis-could-cost-us-300-billion/81359834/.
Fuller, Trevor K. "What Prompts Activism in Response to Environmental Injustice?" Environmental Justice, vol 7, no. 1, 2014, pp. 27-32. Mary Ann Liebert Inc, doi:10.1089/env.2013.0039.
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