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Flint activists sue for door-to-door bottled water delivery

Bottles of water
Flickr user Daniel Orth
The plaintiffs say older, poor and impoverished people in Flint aren't getting enough water

Should a judge force the government to deliver bottled water, door to door, to everybody in Flint?

The Flint water crisis has gone to federal court: a group of activists say the state’s efforts really aren’t reaching a lot of people – especially older, sick, or low-income people.

There’s several plaintiffs here:  a group called the Concerned Pastors for Social Action, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and a Flint resident/activist named Melissa Mays.

They’re asking the court to force the state and city to immediately deliver bottled water directly to every Flint resident who needs it.

“These are everyday Flint residents who simply don’t have the ability to get out of the house every day, and pick up a heavy case of water and bring it back home,” says Anjali Waikar, an attorney with the NRDC.

They brought in a witness who really makes their case: Jacqueline Childress is 60 years old, a retired General Motors employee who lives with her disabled adult son.

She says she doesn’t have a car, so she’s been paying as much as $20 to neighbors or anybody who’ll give her a ride to a water distribution site.

She's called 211 at least three times, she says, but they've never come to deliver water. "They're real nice on the phone, but they don't come," she told the court Wednesday.

She’s called 211 at least three times, she says, but they’ve never come to deliver water. “They’re real nice on the phone, but they don’t come,” she told the court Wednesday.

As for water filters, the plaintiffs say many people in Flint don’t trust the government that they do, in fact, make tap water safe to drink. That’s despite numerous assurances from the EPA and Virginia Tech’s Marc Edwards, the man who first identified the crisis.

Mike Hood, a volunteer with the aid group Crossing Water, demonstrated how to put a filter on a faucet while he was on the stand Wednesday (yup, the lawyers gave him an actual faucet.) He says he sees residents with corroded faucets that require tools in order to get the filter on correctly – tools he says some residents don’t have.

Meanwhile, Hood says he also sees residents who don’t know that you shouldn’t run hot water through the filters, or aren’t given the right kind of cartridges to match their filters.

“We ran into a family who was running a filter without any cartridge at all a couple weeks ago, which means the filter is useless,” Hood says.

His aid group has compiled data suggesting that 52% of the houses they’ve visited either don’t have a filter or have problems with their filter.

But the state’s attorneys, led by Mike Murphy of the Attorney General’s office, strongly dispute those numbers.

And the state’s pushing back, hard, on the suggestion that they’re not doing enough to help. The defense attorneys claim the state has already spent $100 million in Flint and has appropriated another $100 million for aid.  

That includes addressing the lack of corrosion control in the water system, switching the city back to Detroit water, and offering free filters and water to distribution sites and nonprofits.

Meanwhile, the city’s attorneys are trying to hammer home one point: Flint doesn’t have the money to pay for any of this.  

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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