Poverty Playing a Role in Flint Water Scandal?

On Jan. 20 the College sent out an email to all students, warning them of “temporary steam power outage affecting a few buildings on campus.” The email listed the ten buildings that were without hot water, including three residence halls. The inconvenient but relatively harmless episode reminds us that some, like the residents of Flint, MI, have to live with constant  water quality issues.

On Jan. 15, The Washington Post reported “The city opted out of Detroit’s water supply and began drawing water from the Flint River in April 2014, part of a cost-saving move. Eighteen months later, in the fall of 2015, researchers discovered that the proportion of children with above-average lead levels in their blood had doubled.” Scientists and government officials discovered that the water from the Flint River is highly corrosive to the lead pipes still used in some parts of the city. Flint reconnected their water supply system to that of Detroit in October, but the damage to many residents is already done. 

How could something like this happen? Last week The Washington Post reported that the city did not properly test the water supply before making the switch. After protests from Flint citizens, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder appointed Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech to conduct testing. Edwards is the first scientist known to have tested and discovered harmful levels of lead in the Flint system. Gov. Snyder’s office is facing questions of how much they knew, and when. Amid accusations of a cover up and growing calls for his resignation, Snyder said in his State of the State address “Government failed you at the federal, state and local level.'”

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is facing pressure to resign after heavy lead contamination was discovered in the water system in Flint. (Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons)

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is facing pressure to resign after heavy lead contamination was discovered in the water system in Flint. (Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons)

Many experts have asked whether the government would have been quicker to respond if this contamination had been found in a more affluent, predominately white area. “While it might not be intentional, there’s this implicit bias against older cities – particularly older cities with poverty (and) majority-minority communities,” said Democratic U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, who represents the Flint area. ‘It’s hard for me to imagine the indifference that we’ve seen exhibited if this had happened in a much more affluent community.” According to the Census, Flint is 57% black, 37% white, 4% Latino and 4% mixed race. More than 41% of its residents live below the poverty level.

Representative Kildee’s claim raises questions about how prevalent infrastructure issues are across the country, and which communities are most severely affected. The affluent bubble of downtown Charleston may never experience issues with water contamination, but what about Mount Pleasant? West Ashley? If Flint is a model, then any rural, impoverished or minority area of South Carolina could be at risk.

To keep up to date on the Flint, Michigan water situation, you can follow The Flint Journal on Twitter. 

(Photo courtesy of Alli Whitt)

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Alli Whitt is a Blog Writer for CisternYard News. She is a sophomore studying English, with a concentration in Creative Writing, at the College. She began (attempting) to write short stories in third grade and poetry in seventh grade. You can find her at the local coffee shop or at a house show, wearing a turtleneck.

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