It’s not the river: Student shares service experience in Flint

Often we find that in the dissemination of information a disconnect occurs. It is a more complicated process to comprehensively divulge information for mass consumption than people give credit for, but isn’t that the mass media’s job?

Providing truth to the people so they can function in a democratic society, and acting as watchdog over people in power; this is something I learned as a journalism major. This is also something that I struggle with as a journalism major who consistently notices that this isn’t  something the mass media actually does, at least not well.This past week I participated on a service trip in Flint, however I was not at all prepared for what I was about to see.

When prompted about what is going on in Fint, the common response often refers to the river. “Toxic river” has become a term almost synonymous in people’s minds to the city of Flint. In many cases people respond with “I thought that was fixed. I thought the water crisis was over.”

This poses two critical issues that need to be discussed: 1.The sensationalization of the crisis in Flint has caused the public to think of Flint as a disaster zone rather than the current home of thousands. 2.The lack of continued coverage by the mainstream media of the current situation in Flint has caused people to think that the crisis is over. This is an issue because many in the Flint community are still suffering and the absence of comprehensive coverage is causing a lack of accountability in fixing the crisis.

Flint River Watershed Coalition Director Rebecca Fedewa said that in 2014 the city of Flint decided to change its water source from the city of Detroit to the Flint river to save money. This is something I think the general public is mostly aware of, the switch over to the “Toxic river.” But, she said it’s not the river that caused this crisis. Fedewa went on to explain how rivers are naturally a corrosive water source due to being inhabited with a variety of wildlife. “Which is healthy…that means a healthy ecosystem,” she said.

Rivers that are used as water sources are generally treated so that the water is healthy for human use and consumption. The Flint river, however, was not properly treated which led to the water quality issues. This improper treatment does not link the lead back to the river itself, the FRWC frequently tested the river for lead contamination found none. The problem is due to the decision to not add an anti-corrosive to the water.

This decision was made to further the cities savings in the transfer, but the majority of the city’s pipeways are composed of copper and iron pipes that contain lead. As these pipes corroded the metals broke down causing discoloration and lead contamination. As well as chemical reactions from the broken down metals with the disinfectant treatment that caused the disinfectant to become ineffective.

The anti-corrosive chemicals that would have kept this crisis from occurring would have cost the city about $100 a day, said Fedewa. The FRWC released a statement saying that “The failure to properly treat the water, coupled with the failure of local, and federal agencies to take action, has harmed citizens and this invaluable freshwater resource.This is unacceptable.”

So, the crisis isn’t due to a “toxic river,” the crisis is due to toxic decision making that in attempt to save the city money is continuously wreaking havoc on people’s lives and causing rifts between the community and their own environment. It seemed that in many of the publications surrounding the crisis the people experiencing the crisis were disassociated from the crisis itself.

People’s lives are being impacted in more ways than you can imagine. The loss of clean water creates a domino effect. The water is not only unsuitable to drink but it is unsuitable to cook with and even bathe with which means much of the community’s incomes have become designated to buying packaged water, which is not cheap.

Now imagine this while being low income, which much of Flint is, and having to balance the cost of buying water, food, and paying your bills. Imagine if you had children. For some kids, this water crisis is all that they know. Lead poisoning can lead to severe cognitive disorders in children and many cases of Legionnaires Disease were reported within the community.

Although the Flint, Michigan community is one of the strongest I have seen, that simply is not enough. An amazing woman referred to as Mother Jones had created an extensive food bank for those suffering from the water crisis at her church. She said that even though the crisis was so detrimental to people’s lives, it was bringing the community together. But, the community’s fight is about surviving, and surviving is not the same as recovering.

On March 17, $100 million was given to the state of Michigan by the EPA to manage the Flint water crisis. This relief began during the Obama administration and has received substantial cuts since then. Some of this funding will be go toward service line replacement, but the majority of the funding will focus on the Flint water plant and distributing orthophosphate to coat the corroding pipes. This process takes a long time and does not solve the issue. It’s a bandaid for the catastrophe that is the remaining corroded pipes.

Throughout the duration of the water infrastructure upgrades people will continue to have unclean water because this process will take years. This award by the EPA will receive press but the Flint community will still be left in the dark while people across the nation say “I thought the water crisis was over.” While people in Flint said to us “thank you for not forgetting us.” It is the news media’s job to give the full, comprehensive truth to the people for the people. It is a disservice to the nation, and the people of Flint, that the media has left the people of Flint behind.