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State plan for Flint's water woes doesn't please some residents

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

State and local officials Friday unveiled a plan for fixing Flint’s water problems.

But one demand of many city residents is not on the list.

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality director Dan Wyant addressed what he sees as the critical problem in Flint. 

“We know many residents are concerned about health and the health of their children. Many have lost confidence in the drinking water," Wyant told a midday news conference in Flint. "We need to build that back. We need to do more."

In the year since the city of Flint switched its source of drinking water from Detroit's system to the Flint River, there have been problems.

First residents complained about the smell, taste and appearance of their tap water. Then came E. coli outbreaks. Then problems with chemicals.

Recently, tests showed high lead levels in the water and in the blood of Flint children.

State officials have a new plan which includes more testing of schools, homes and people. The state is also chipping in $1 million to pay for water filters for Flint homes. 

Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Flint Mayor Dayne Walling holds one of 4,000 water filters donated to Flint residents in response to high lead levels in their drinking water

But several state officials downplayed the problem in Flint. For example, they suggest Flint children had a problem with high blood lead levels before the city started getting its water from the Flint River.

That assessment does not sit well with many in Flint. 

About 30 protesters chanted "Flint lives matter," and some wore hazmat suits, as they stood outside the midday news conference in Flint to voice their displeasure with the new plan for Flint’s water.

“I feel like we’re in Hurricane Katrina. George Bush just flew over," said Pastor Allen Overton, with the Concerned Pastors for Social Action. "(They) said everything was OK. This is awful. We have a state of emergency here and they’re treating it as though it’s no real big deal."

Overton and others say the solution is going back to Detroit water. 

Flint Mayor Dayne Walling, for whom the city’s water problems have become a thorny issue in his re-election campaign this fall, says returning to Detroit water remains on the table but that the city would need the state’s help.

“So far, the estimated cost would be $1.5 to $2 million per month, pending on the usage level," says Walling. "The city is not in a position to afford that cost.”

And at least at this point, Governor Snyder is not offering to pick that cost up.     

Meanwhile this weekend, 4,000 water filters will be distributed to needy families. Pregnant women, formula-fed babies and people living in neighborhoods with high lead levels in the water are being given high priority. 

But Genesee County health officials say they’ll need 20,000 water filters to meet the need. 

In the end, Flint officials are hopeful a new pipeline being built from Lake Huron will help with the problem.  

But questions remain about the long-term effects on Flint’s water system and about the health of the city’s residents.  

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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