As media coverage dies down, Flint struggles to recover
Many Durango citizens expect uncontaminated water to come out of their faucet, but not all are this lucky. As the water crisis in Flint, Michigan fades from the public eye, people reflect on the unresolved details of what happened. Residents are still being advised to avoid their home’s water over three years since the crisis was initially recognized.
“In Flint, what we’re seeing is a lot of migration of people, so all that is left there are the people who were too poor to move out. Their source of taxes began to dry up and they were looking for a way to cut costs, so they started treating their own water from the Flint River,” said Edward Tolen, General Manager at the La Plata Archuleta Water District.
Originally, Flint’s water was supplied from the Detroit water system, where it was treated at the same standards as the majority of the surrounding area.
“The state could have done a better job of monitoring when they switched from the Detroit water, and apparently they didn’t,” said Tolen.
At the water treatment plant, water is meant to be slightly alkaline, at a typical pH of 8.5 for drinking water. This ensures it will not strip the pipes and allows lead to seep into the water directed to home, which is where the water supply switch went wrong.
“As blood-lead levels increase, many different things can happen, one being behavioral changes and lowered IQ scores, especially in children,” said Ron Falco, Safe Drinking Water Program Manager at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Many children in Flint have been affected by the lead they have ingested, which can have lasting effects on brain development and the nervous system.
“Some people will say that it was the state’s fault, but there are so many levels that no one person is really to blame,” said Falco.
Because many of the details are still unclear to the public, nearly everyone will provide a different answer to who is at fault in this situation .
“It’s not acceptable for officials to prolong the mending of contaminated pipes,” said Jr. Risa Whitehead, who has a passion for human rights. “It’s the city official’s job to take care of their citizens and make the best decisions for the city.”
If the water contamination had occurred in Durango, a predominantly white, high-income town, critics claim it would have been handled in a swift and timely manner, as opposed to the impoverished African-American community of Flint.
The connection between the Animas mine spill of 2015 can also be drawn for some, especially people who were directly affected by the poor river water quality.
“In Durango, there was a lot of pressure to fix the situation at hand, and we also had some funding in order to pay for the mistake, but Flint has no funds,” said Whitehead.
“I think that Durango is an affluent community with a culture of political activism, where we feel comfortable approaching our government officials and demanding change,” said Leigh Gozigian, a social studies teacher at Durango High School.
Although the issue has technically been resolved with the switch back to Detroit water, residents are still advised not to ingest tap water. This is among the most major barriers to Flint’s recovery.
“Not learning from why it happened and what we can do to prevent it going forward would definitely be a missed opportunity,” said Falco.
From here on out, the only thing that can be done is to learn from the mistakes made in water treatment and handling of the contamination, so communities are better prepared in the event that a such widespread health threat occurs again.