Health

Michigan’s Water Crisis Has Gotten So Bad The National Guard Has Been Deployed

CREDIT: AP Photo/Paul Sancya

Lemott Thomas carries free water being distributed at the Lincoln Park United Methodist Church in Flint, Mich., Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) activated his state’s National Guard late Tuesday night to help address a growing public health crisis stemming from tap water poisoned with lead.

The move is the latest attempt from the governor — who declared a state of emergency last week over the water situation — to address a crisis in Flint that’s been brewing for months.

Flint residents have struggled to maintain access to drinking water following financial troubles that have made this utility increasingly expensive. In 2014, in an attempt to save money, the city switched its water source to the nearby Flint River — a switch that has since been linked to heightened levels of lead in residents’ bloodstreams, thanks to outdated pipes and a corrosive agent present in the water supply. Flint’s mayor says the city is now facing a “man-made disaster.”

The National Guard will help local authorities reach out to Flint residents to provide them with clean drinking water, new filters, and lead testing kits. According to the Associated Press, door-to-door efforts are underway and volunteers hope to reach 500 to 600 households per day. Flint is home to an estimated 30,000 households in total.

Snyder has been criticized for his slow response to the water crisis. Government officials did not start handing out bottled water until several days after the governor first declared a state of emergency. And that announcement itself came several weeks after Flint officials had already declared a state of emergency on the city level.

Email records suggest that some members of Snyder’s administration have been aware of the issues with the water for months, though the governor says he first became aware of the lead poisoning risk in October. Research from the ACLU alleges that administration officials may have simply ignored the mounting evidence about the water contamination. The director of the state’s Department of Environmental Quality stepped down last week.

Flint residents have been wary about their tap water for quite some time. They first started raising concerns about their drinking water — which they complained appeared cloudy and had a foul odor — just one month after their water source first switched to the Flint River.

But no matter what government officials do now, some of the consequences of the water crisis may be irreversible. According to the World Heath Organization (WHO), lead affects children’s brain development in significant ways, “resulting in reduced intelligence quotient (IQ), behavioral changes such as shortening or attention span and increased antisocial behavior, and reduced educational attainment.”

“This is a crisis,” Snyder acknowledged this week. “And that is something I apologize for in terms of the state’s role in all of this.”