Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro is visiting Flint, Michigan, on Saturday — becoming the first 2020 presidential candidate to do so.
Flint is still struggling with its water system, five years after then-Gov. Rick Snyder (R) decided to change the city’s drinking water source to the Flint River in an effort to cut costs.
Within weeks, the city’s residents — primarily low-income people of color — complained about the water’s smell and taste and claimed it was causing illnesses, rashes, and hair loss, among other ailments. Government officials dismissed the complaints and insisted the water was fine.
By 2016, the scope of the issue became clearer, but by then, the contaminated river had corroded the city’s old lead pipes and poisoned many residents. Flint residents were failed by local, state, and federal officials, whose response to the crisis was delayed.
On Saturday, Castro visited the First Trinity Missionary Baptist Church, which has helped residents get access to safe drinking water since 2014. Actor and rapper Jaden Smith has donated a mobile water filtration system to the church, with promises to donate another, and each one can filter 10 gallons of water in one minute.
Earlier in the day, he met with Flint Mayor Karen Weaver (D) and Rep. Dan Kildee (D).
Flint’s First Trinity Missionary Baptist Church has been on the front lines of the water crisis since day one—from handing out water bottles, to servicing their Water Box, a filtration system donated by @officialjaden which has replaced 30,000 plastic bottles since March. pic.twitter.com/qxJTouR4Hr
— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) June 8, 2019
Castro also held a town hall open to more people on Saturday afternoon.
According to BuzzFeed reporter Nidhi Prakash, Flint residents said they are glad someone is listening, but they’re also looking for concrete plans on how to fix the crisis.
Flint’s water crisis, which was also linked to a deadly Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in 2014 and 2015, and its fallout is still continuing.
Earlier this week, Flint’s mayor pushed back against EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s claim on Monday that the city’s water is meeting federal standards and safe to drink.
“My feelings regarding if and when I will declare the water safe for residents to drink have not changed,” Weaver said in a statement. “The medical community and scientific community will both have to be in agreement, after a period of testing over time, that the water is safe to drink before I ever declare it safe.”
Local media has reported that residents don’t believe Wheeler’s claim either.
“It’s not safe obviously. I can tell you that because the water at my house still has a bad smell to it, even after they did the pipes,” Tracy Watson, a mother in Flint, told NBC 25 News.
Many Flint residents who ThinkProgress spoke to in October said they continue to rely on bottled water over filtered tap water because they do not believe the government has fixed the problem.
In recent weeks, authorities used warrants to seize the cellphone Snyder used while in office, as well as mobile devices belonging to 66 other current or former officials, as part of a criminal investigation of the city’s water crisis.
In April, a judge ruled that city residents can move forward with their lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Two years ago, Flint residents sued the EPA over its “mishandling” of the crisis, including its failure to use its authority under the Safe Drinking Water Act to warn people about the health risks. The government has sought to dismiss the case.
In 2016, at the height of the crisis, both Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) held a debate in Flint and called on Snyder to resign.
Only five Democratic presidential candidates have visited Michigan this campaign cycle, according to Politico.