Flint Water Crisis: The Not-So-Usual Suspects


Dennis Sanders

Dennis Sanders is the Associate Pastor at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Minneapolis, MN.  You can follow Dennis through his blogs, The Clockwork Pastor and Big Tent Revue and on Twitter.  Feel free to contact him at dennis.sanders(at)gmail(dot)com.

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33 Responses

  1. Avatar bookdragon says:

    Interesting. He’s right that the focus has to be on helping the people of Flint, however, the statement here smacks too much of how it’s never time to talk about gun laws after a mass shooting.

    Moreover, he clearly has an axe to grind in being anti-Dem and pro-GOP. Quite outside of the blatant snarky remarks about liberal-leaning folks, it’s particularly telling in how he explains the role of the DEQ – even acknowledges that the guy in charge is an MBA and ‘entrepreneurship innovator’ and in no way qualified for understanding the science required! – but then moves right along to excusing the governor and EFM.

    Nothing to see here…GOP ideology playing into appointments and priorities had nothing to do with this tragedy… move along, move along…Report

  2. Avatar Lurker says:

    Does the GOP or the right more generally ever “politicize” things they shouldn’t? Or does “politicize” just mean “the left is correct but they shouldn’t say we’re wrong because, well…, just because.’Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Lurker says:

      This whole thing is politicized, because there’s no money pushing back against politicizing it.Report

      • Avatar pillsy in reply to Kim says:

        The whole thing is politicized because it involves a profound failure of the political system (or, indeed, several political systems), and any attempt to improve on the situation now will require political action.

        Also, the idea that Democrats using this for political advantage against the Republicans is an “even larger tragedy” is ridiculous on its face.Report

  3. Avatar Kim says:

    Where was he when other people were being poisoned? When people were being told that arsenic and lead and everything else was “not toxic”??

    Anyone who is simply reacting to their newsfeed on this one deserves to be shouted at. This isn’t the only place where there’s issues. In fact, this is the ONE place, it appears, where proactive action now won’t help.

    Can we please get proactive about water quality?Report

  4. The only news report of that process simply says “negotiations broke down.” Which tells me that Detroit wasn’t offering enough K-Y for what they were asking Flint to take when it bent over.

    Thanks, Dennis, for finding an article that evaluated the facts carefully and objectively.Report

  5. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    Another “let’s not politicize this massive failure of politicians and the political structure to do the most fundamental aspect of their job.”

    The government failed to ensure a supply of clean water.
    The simplest, most primitive function, that even an anarcho libertarian agrees should be done, and they failed utterly and completely.

    Of course there is blame to go around, there always is.

    But the executive branch is called the executive branch for a reason. The emergency manager process was sold to us as a way to bypass the messy legislative branch and the sclerotic bureaucracy and let the Strong Man to ride in and Run It Like A Business.

    The entire EM apparatus was political, born of this ideology that scorned government and policy in favor of executive action. The whole idea is that all the power and responsibility for outcomes can be placed on the shoulders of the Strong Man.

    When this Strong Man CEO manager fails to do even the simplest task, it is absurd and frankly, insulting to suggest that we not look at the political structure for criticism.Report

  6. Avatar pillsy says:

    Two things notably absent from the linked article:

    Any concrete suggestion of what we actually should be doing in order to actually help the people of Flint.
    Any explanation of how the ongoing blame, politicization and/or outrage preclude doing what we should be doing to help the people of Flint.Report

    • Avatar bookdragon in reply to pillsy says:

      And a 3rd thing: What we should be doing to ensure that this is not happening elsewhere and will not happen again.

      …but since that would involve discussion of turning lessons learned into local/state/federal laws, regulations and enforcement measures, I guess that would be considered ‘politicizing’ the issue.Report

  7. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    There is a simple & very straightforward way to prevent the other team from roasting your team over the coals for a political screw up – don’t screw up.

    If (as I’ve read in a few places) Snyder’s office had been informed a year or so ago* about the danger of lead in the water, then he had two choices, address it directly and openly and offer up a reasonable fix (say, some extra budget from the state for the chemicals needed to treat the water, or dream up a way to make damn sure the other team has egg on their face for it. The one thing you do not do, no matter how much you think that town is a political stinker, is ignore something like that. You jump on stuff like that** like ugly on an orc and you deal with it.

    *Assuming whoever actually read the email did not just sit on it. Of course, if they did, they were politically incompetent and should be fired, very publicly, and it’s still on Snyder and his staff for not training & supervising their people well enough.

    **Public water is, as others have said, a pretty key government service when available. Having it be toxic in some significant way, especially when the cost of the fix is pocket change, is arguably criminal negligence.Report

  8. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    It is always interesting how Republican partisans manage to make everything the fault of those icky and dreaded liberals. They sound like the villains at the end of a Scooby Doo episode.Report

    • Avatar notme in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      That’s hilarious considering the “don’t politicize things” is the usual whine from liberals. Followed by them saying that they wouldn’t do such things they are morally superior to the Repubs. I’m sure this issue had nothing to do with Obama’s recent trip to Michigan or his meeting with Flint’s mayor. Nope, no politics there.Report

  9. Avatar nevermoor says:

    I still don’t understand why we are supposed to pretend this is a complex multifaceted problem.

    The local ERM chose to use water from the river and failed to treat it with standard/necessary corrosive inhibitors to avoid exactly this problem. Everything about why the switch was made is noise.Report

  10. Avatar Joe Sal says:

    All the usual suspects.

    -“were forgotten and neglected by every agency in the country that was supposed to protect them,”

    -“What you really have as it spun out of control is a total loss of trust in government, which failed [residents] miserably. They don’t believe a word that anyone tells them.”

    -“Edwards estimates that the city and state may spend $100 million to repair just the water infrastructure, plus more to replace lead-pipe connections to individual homes.”


  11. The Daily Beast is reporting some new information:

    * In 2012, the Flint River was considered as a water source by the then-current Flint Emergency Manage,. Ed Kurtz . He rejected the idea after consulting with the Michigan DEQ.

    * In early 2014, the then-current EM, Darnell Earley, broke off negotiations with Detroit Water and Sewer Department for Flint to continue to use their water, notifying them that the decision to use Flint River water had already been made.

    * Howard Croft, a former director of public works for Flint, asserts that the decision to use Flint River water was reviewed and approved by the governor’s office.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      Who made the decision to not add the treatment chemicals to avoid lead leaching from the pipes?Report

      • No idea. I don’t even know if there are such chemicals, at least ones that are safe for drinking water.Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Mike Schilling says:

          The water was corrosive (high levels of chloride, not sure which compound). I know you can pull chlorides from water with reverse osmosis, but I recall hearing that they could have added an inexpensive treatment (something alkaline, I would assume) to balance the pH.Report

          • Or a buffer, sure. But I still can’t tell what order things happened in. For instance, was the river water acidic to start with, or was it balanced but high in bacteria, and addressing the contamination with high levels of chlorination created the acidity? And once the lead began to leach, would reducing the acidity help, or was the damage to the lead pipes already done?Report

            • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to Mike Schilling says:

              issue #1:
              “Reverting to supply from the DWSD until the KWA supply is available as an option. However, the DWSD has stipulated that a $4 million connection fee would apply and current water rates would include approximately $900,000 / month flat fee plus usage charges. Therefore, utilizing the DWSD for interim supply is cost prohibitive under the terms defined by the DWSD. ”


              B. TREATMENT PROCESS

              1. Operational Recommendations
              ? Coagulation and flocculation polymer aids: The 2002 Treatability Study
              suggested the use of coagulation and flocculation polymer aids. These polymer aids were shown in the 2002 Treatability Study to increase TOC removal and thereby reduce THMFP. Further evaluation will be completed during jar testing. [what would need to be done to the system to allow feed??
              Could it be done easily??]

              ? Discontinue softening bypass: The City was previously bypassing a portion of
              flow around the softening basins because hardness levels did not warrant softening of the full stream. However, this practice was discontinued because it was believed the bypass stream was contributing to chlorine demand and preliminary data has supported that belief. Chlorine demand dropped 0.5 -1.0 mg/l following elimination of the bypass stream in early November 2014.

              ? Soften with line and soda ash: Research has shown that enhanced softening with both lime and soda ash may provide additional TOC removal. The efficacy of this option will be evaluated during jar testing.

              ? Disinfection of filter beds: In case there has been microbial growth it is recommended the filters be ‘shock’ treated with chlorine and rinsed. A
              chlorine injection point was added upstream of the filters during the first segment of Phase II so future growth in the filters should not be an issue.
              ? Optimization of all existing treatment processes: Depending on bench scale testing conditions and results, slight modifications to all treatment processes might in order to replicate lower DPBFP.

              2. Infrastructure Change Recommendations
              ? Fix and/or replace faulty ozone equipment: Since the ozone equipment was
              installed it has not been used extensively so the hope is that major components remain in good condition and the system can be easily modified
              to restore proper functionality. The City has scheduled the equipment manufacturer to field inspect the system on December 15, 2014.

              ? Change disinfectant to chloramine or chlorine dioxide: If other options prove to be ineffective, conversion to another disinfectant should be fully evaluated. Various characteristics of chloramination indicate an advantage over chlorine
              dioxide, but a full analysis would provide clarity as to which would be preferred.

              ? Install pre-oxidant chemical feed: Hydrogen peroxide as a pre-oxidant can enhance the activity of the ozone. This option is listed as a consideration only if problems continue with ozonation.

              ? Repair upstream sewer leak: a sewer leak upstream of the WTP intake was discovered and has already been repaired by the City.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to Joe Sal says:

                issue #3:
                C. DISTRIBUTION SYSTEM
                Recommendations will be incorporated into this report when available. It is anticipated details will be provided for the following topics.

                1. Manage Water Age
                a) Storage Tanks
                b) Residence Time in Pipes
                2. Reduce Disinfectant Demand
                a) Flushing
                b) Cast Iron Pipes

                3. Water Modeling of Recommendations
                Determine best flushing locations to reduce water age
                Changes to storage tank operating levels to reduce water age Valves to close/add to improve pressure zones, reduce recirculation Optimization of pump station use – smaller pumps? Shut down?Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to Joe Sal says:

                issue #4
                should probably deal with what agencies knew there was a lead level problem and covered it up, or minimized it.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to Joe Sal says:

                issue #5:
                Acknowledge, identify and replace lead pipes in decrepit water infrastructure?Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Joe Sal says:

                On thing I was reading was that while the city knew it had pipes with lead, it doesn’t know which pipes are problematic (bad record keeping?). So it can’t just dig up and replace the bad pipes.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                What quantum of risk potential does lead pipe represent? What potential of repeated cascade failure do we want to include?

                City construction/maintenance crews would be a wealth of knowledge to help find the pipes. They usually know where the ‘bodies’ are buried.

                Costly, yes. Difficult, yes. The alternative is to continue with the ‘right people in charge’ and hoping for the best. The pertinent question is, what are the people of Flint comfortable with?Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Joe Sal says:

                the DWSD has stipulated that a $4 million connection fee would apply and current water rates would include approximately $900,000 / month flat fee plus usage charges.

                I’m wondering how this compares to the charges under the previous contract. Also who runs the DWSD, since so much of Detroit is under state-appointed emergency managers.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                That’s a fair statement. It would be informative of issue #1 to have all the proposals on a timeline showing what the developing options were and what was truly ‘cost prohibitive’ and who had an ‘angle’.Report

              • As of this month, DWSD is no longer responsible (nor has authority over) any of the water and sewer infrastructure and arrangements outside of the Detroit city limits. The new Great Lakes Water Authority has taken over all of the very extensive operations DWSD had outside of the city. In effect, Flint is now negotiating with the suburban counties around Detroit more so than with Detroit proper.Report

  12. Avatar Lyle says:

    Here is a link to an interesting article pointing out other cities in Mi that have higher lead poisoning rates than Flint: http://www.mlive.com/health/index.ssf/2015/12/far_from_flint_lead_remains_an.html
    Note that in these cities it is the usual culprits of basically old lead paint, and the lack of money to fix up the old houses.
    I have also seen articles point out that parts of cities in other states as well have higher lead poisoning rates than Flint.
    It should be pointed out however that the overall rates are down in the US due to the end of leaded auto gasoline. The remediation rates of older buildings seem to be part of the problem, with the problems lead can cause are we just delaying the payment and paying with interest for the problem.Report

  13. Avatar Kim says:

    You’re the pastor, Dennis.
    What do you do when the dead are still walking?
    You cry your tears, say your prayers, and you bury the dead as quick as you can.

    Not sure what the fuck else you’re supposed to do. You can’t fix permanent brain damage.
    300x legal maximum folks.Report