Suffer, Flint’s Children

It is quite shocking that no one from the Rick Snyder administration in Michigan is on trial, impeached or in jail for charges such as felony child endangerment. Such charges involve a person engaged in conduct that places a child in imminent danger of death, bodily injury, or physical or mental impairment. It is a charge that can involve an act or even an omission.

The determination usually looks at two different aggravating factors, the first being intent. Was the conduct merely negligent or reckless, or willful or intentional? The former is a misdemeanor, the latter, a felony. The second factor is the degree of risk: the higher the risk, the higher the charge.

Such should be the consideration in the lead poisoning of children by corrosive Flint River water in Flint, Michigan. The switch to Flint River water was perpetrated by an emergency manager in Flint, who changed Flint’s water source to the Flint River without treating the river water, something experience teaches us is almost always necessary. He was appointed by and reported to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. Conditions of risk were perpetuated over some 13 months after symptoms and subsequent blood tests showed high levels of lead poisoning in Flint children.

Such deleterious results too often come with a tyranny that suspension of democracy can bring. In a number of Michigan cities, emergency managers appointed under the authority of Michigan’s so-called Emergency Manager Law, replace elected representatives, making changes impacting the health and welfare of citizens. In effect, citizens of affected cities and school districts become chattels of one would-be autocrat, appointed by Governor Rick Snyder.

A temporary solution has become permanent in such principalities in an area suffering under a shift in political power that brought labor’s decline and management’s ascent as money took hold of government.

An area nicknamed the Rust Belt, formerly known as the industrial heartland of America, is a belt that stretches along the Southern boundaries of the Great Lakes, also covering the Midwest States, New York areas and eastern Wisconsin.  It is marked by economic decline, fleeing populations, and urban decay due to numerous economic factors, including automation, globalization, the Wall Street recession, and technological change. But many of the factors were politically imposed by the exigencies of shifting power from middle class citizens to Wall Street and crony capitalists.

In 2008, such a shift was evident when the financial abuse of Wall Street bankers resulted in the threatened bankruptcies of giant banks. The reaction of the federal government was multi-billion dollar bailouts, this while stricken consumers were forgotten, as well as citizens of already bankrupt cities throughout the so-called Rust Belt who went even deeper into economic ruin. Such troubled citizens were met with even further cuts, a result of GOP-driven austerity measures, most involving cuts to federal support for local economic services.

The unequal treatment played out with bailouts of monolithic banks and the smack-down of citizens of cities and schools considered wasteful and reckless.

Emergency management laws have been Michigan’s answer to financial decline in many cities throughout the state. Currently, Hamtramck, Detroit, Flint, Pontiac, Benton Harbor, Allen Park and the school districts of Muskegon Heights, Highland Park and Detroit are under the control of an emergency manager.

You might argue that the elected leaders of such bankrupt Michigan cities must be replaced with responsible leaders, but such leadership seems to be an excuse for imposing the conservative ideology of governors such as Snyder and a GOP legislature, an ideology which blames the economically stricken for their decline, not Wall Street malfeasance or the crony favoritism practiced by leaders indebted to corporate contributors.

In late 2012, the current Emergency Manager Law was passed by the GOP-controlled Michigan legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder. It went into effect in early 2013, after the prior Emergency Manager Law was rejected in a Michigan voter referendum of November, 2012. The new law pointedly blocked any future voter referendums.

Generally you can decry such measures as tyrannical due to the seemingly arbitrary suspension of democracy in such principalities, but events that transpired in Flint, Michigan, one of the captive cities, this over the last two years, speaks volumes of the vicious and mindless cruelty of emergency managers and their overseers in state government, indicated by a lack of nurture or concern for the people.

In April 2014, officials in the city of Flint, namely the emergency manager who is only accountable to Governor Rick Snyder, switched Flint’s water source from Detroit’s water system of lake water to the Flint River to save money. Although river water is known to be more corrosive, “no water treatment was needed,” the emergency manager and Snyder opined. In fact, the emergency manager sold the pipe between Flint and Detroit, severing any connection to the safe Detroit water.

Sure enough, the lead soldering in the Flint pipes began leaching, mixing lead with the corrosive river water. It was immediately determined by the General Motors plant in Flint that the water from the Flint River was so caustic that it was corroding car parts, so they adopted an alternative source. The people of Flint did not have the same resources to switch.

Skin lesions, hair loss, learning disabilities and behavioral problems became more common. Blood tests began revealing the presence of lead in the blood of children. During the months of July, August and September, 2014, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) internally revealed that lead poisoning rates “were higher than usual for children under age 16 living in the City of Flint. When the Michigan department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) officials, who reported directly to Governor Rick Snyder, repeatedly and falsely stated that no spike in blood lead levels (BLL) of children had occurred, DHHS officials did not object.

For a whole year DHHS officials stonewalled efforts by outside researchers, and even released incomplete data to cover up the evidence. Only when the incidence of childhood lead poisoning skyrocketed above 10% in the two Flint zip codes with the highest water lead risk did they reveal the truth, and it wasn’t until October of 2015 that the county declared a public health emergency.

The Rick Snyder administration was aware that the lead level in the drinking water went from 6 parts per million to 11 parts per million in just 6 months in 2014 and 2015. Even so in July of 2015 Brad Wurfel of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, reporting directly to Rick Snyder, announced, “relax … There is no broad problem right now that we’ve seen with lead in the drinking water in Flint.”

Governor Rick Snyder allowed Flint to drink toxic water despite repeated warnings. He knew that there were elevated lead levels in the blood and had to know that brain damage in children is life-long and irreversible, most especially for children under age six. Flint pediatrician, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attista did painstaking research showing unsafe lead levels in Flint’s children. Her September of 2015 report even then was denounced by Michigan state agencies.

“Lead is probably one of the most damning things you can do to a population,” Hanna-Attisha said.

In contrast to the Snyder administration’s insulting denunciations and bluster, her words were measured in sadness for the many stricken children, “We wouldn’t expect this to happen in 2015, especially when we could have easily used corrosion control to prevent it.”

Meanwhile Rick Snyder distanced himself from the suffering by appointing a communication professional to handle the Flint lead poisoning debacle, while his Board of State Canvassers voted to reject a recall petition filed by a Detroit pastor.

James Hoover is a recently retired systems engineer. He has advanced degrees in Economics and English. Prior to his aerospace career, he taught high school, and he has also taught college courses. He recently published a science fiction novel called Extraordinary Visitors and writes political columns on several websites. Read other articles by James.