Seven years ago, public officials in cash-strapped Flint, Michigan, cut city costs by tapping the Flint River as a source of public drinking water.
So began the most egregious example of environmental injustice in recent U.S. history, according to Paul Mohai, a founder of the movement for environmental justice and a professor at the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability.
When they made the switch, city officials didn’t properly treat the new water, which allowed lead from corroded pipes, bacteria, and other contaminants to leach into the public drinking water supply. Flint residents, who are disproportionately low-income and Black, immediately raised alarms about the fetid, brown water flowing out of their faucets and cited health problems, such as hair loss and rashes.
But the city didn’t officially acknowledge the problem or begin to take decisive action until a year and a half later.
In the meantime, more than 8,000 children under age 6 were exposed to water contaminated by lead, which can cause developmental delays, learning difficulties and a host of other health problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no safe level of lead in children’s blood …