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Flint water crisis, 9 years (and counting)

Activists gather at a Flint church to observe the ninth anniversary of the start of the Flint Water Crisis
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio
Activists gather at a Flint church to observe the ninth anniversary of the start of the Flint water crisis.

Flint activists are demanding more action to address problems tied to the city’s water crisis.

Tuesday marked the ninth anniversary of the start of the crisis.

On April 25, 2014, then-Flint Mayor Dayne Walling pushed a button to switch the city’s drinking water source from Detroit’s water system to the Flint River. The intent of the switch was to save the city millions of dollars. The result was an environmental disaster.

Improperly treated river water damaged aging pipes. Lead and other contaminants were released into the city’s drinking water. Flint’s drinking water source was switched back to Detroit’s system 18 months later.

The long-term effects of the contamination on Flint residents, especially on young children, have been a focus for health officials.

On Tuesday, a broad spectrum of activists gathered at a Flint church to rail against multiple ongoing issues with the city’s drinking water, ranging from its quality to the price of city water. There is also skepticism that the city will complete a federal court-ordered service line inspection and pipe replacement project by an August 1 deadline. Hundreds of pipes remain to be inspected.

Jalil Carter is with the Peacekeepers Global Initiative. He said Flint's problems have not been fixed fast enough.

“We’re still suffering,” said Carter. “The people who are in charge...are moving like turtles and snails.”

Concerns are also being raised about a $626 million civil settlement with the state of Michigan, the city of Flint, McLaren Flint Medical Center and Rowe Professional Services. The deal was announced in 2021 as a way to settle thousands of civil claims stemming from the water crisis. But tens of thousands of Flint residents are still waiting to see if they will receive a share of the massive settlement.

Many in Flint still do not trust the water flowing from their taps is safe to drink, despite years of government testing showing the water is within state and federal standards for lead.

There is also a lingering anger over a lack of criminal culpability. A Michigan Supreme Court opinion casting doubt on the one-judge grand jury used to issue indictments has largely stalled a criminal investigation that included former Governor Rick Snyder.

Activists complain the roots of the crisis have not been fully dealt with.

Mona Younis is with the Environmental Transformation Movement. She placed the blame for the crisis and a lack of action since on environmental racism.

“There’s so many aspects to the water crisis that can’t just be thought about in terms of social justice. This is an intentional targeting of our community as a predominantly Black community,” said Younis.

Given the slow pace of recovery, longtime Flint water activist Melissa Mays (Flint Rising) said they are already planning for next year’s tenth anniversary of the Flint water crisis.

“Because it doesn’t seem like it will be any different,” said Mays.

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.