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Officials say things are getting better in Flint. This family says things are worse.

Laura and Sean MacIntyre
Mark Brush
Michigan Radio
Laura and Sean MacIntyre have been dealing with water problems for three years now.

Today, government officials and independent researchers say the drinking water in Flint is much improved.

But the MacIntyres,like many families in Flint, are not convinced.

“Flint today is actually worse than it was last year and the year before,” says Laura MacIntyre.

Laura and her husband Sean have three children. When we spoke to them last year, they showed us what it was like having to use bottled water for many daily tasks.

Here’s how they described it in December 2015:

More than a year later, the MacIntyres say the situation has not improved for them.

“It’s worse because it hasn’t gotten better,” says Sean. “We’re two years down the line, things have not gotten better. We’re still having to go through all of the processes we have before, except we’re two years into it. There’s no end in sight.”

(How do people in Flint describe how things are today? Go to #MyFlintStory for more.)

Despite reassurances by the EPA, MDEQ, and other officials that as long as you use a filter on your faucet, the water is safe to use -- the McIntyres are still suspicious of their water.

They still rely on bottled water. They use 10 cases a week.

 They still rely on bottled water. They use 10 cases a week.

"[The water] smells like a combination of like oily discharge and wet dog today," says Laura. "It’s almost like the water’s not consistent enough to even complain about it. It’s something different. It’s not good. So I don’t know how they can say that the filters work because if the water is different every single day, then what is it filtering out?"

The family goes through about ten cases of water a week.
Credit MacIntyre Family
When we spoke to the MacIntyres in 2015, we asked them to photograph their experiences.

They worry that there hasn’t been enough focus on testing for things beyond copper and lead. Fear of Legionella bacteria is still a major concern for them, for example.

Testing by the state and by Virginia Tech has shown that bacteria levels have gone down in the system.

But the MacIntyres don't buy it.

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More than just the water

The official response to the water crisis has not been adequate enough for the MacIntyres. They’re concerned that officials, including the governor’s office, are concentrating on cleaning up their own public image instead of the water.

"We're still not getting the information we need. We still demanded information - what is in the water? We still haven't had that answered after three years. We have a lot of public relations professionals who are issuing information that we really cannot trust," says Laura.

Much of their concern is driven by a lack of trust of government officials. (State officials admitit is something they need to work on.)

Much of their concern is driven by a lack of trust of government officials.

"We know that we can’t trust the EPA. We know that we can’t trust MDEQ. We can’t trust the governor’s office because they just issue blank statements like everything is fine," Laura says.

Authorities are saying that Flint’s water is much improved - although they are still telling residents to use filters.

EPA Region 5 acting administrator Robert Kaplan told us that their tests show that "there are a number of initial conclusions. The most important one is that the system is getting better in every respect."

And last December, Virginia Tech's Marc Edwards said, "we're now approaching the end of the public health crisis."

But Laura MacIntyre says she’ll need to see more testing before she believes those conclusions. 

The state’s mistakes

Some legal and political choices made by state officials have not gone over well with people in Flint.

“We’re getting things like the governor charging his public relations' legal situations to the state of Michigan, blaming it on us, taking away our rights to file any agreements or a lawsuit,” Sean MacIntyre points out.

A complaint filed in October 2016 alleged that Governor Rick Snyder used taxpayer money to hire a private law firm as local, state, and federal prosecutors began criminal investigations of the Flint water crisis.

Other issues are plaguing the family on a more personal level, such as water bills.

Stack of water bottles
Credit The MacIntyre family
Cases of water bottles outside the MacIntyre home. The family uses about 10 cases a week.

“It’s almost like you need a secret decoder ring to look at your bill, and figure out what credits - where they’re coming from, what they’re applied to - it’s always a mystery.”

Looking forward

The MacIntyres have been able to make some changes since 2015.

The biggest is that their children no longer attend Flint schools.

“We actually switched school systems, so they’re no longer going to school inside the city. Couple different reasons for that, but they’re going to Fenton schools now. And our surprise [is] that they can get drinks out of the drinking fountain,” says Sean.

And although the family admits that they would leave Flint if there were job opportunities elsewhere, it would still be a difficult decision.

"This is my home, this is my community, this is where I was born and raised," Laura says. "And I moved back intentionally and have lots of ties - lots of family and community ties. It would be a big loss to break all those things and leave."

Do you live in Flint? We want to hear about your experiences. You can share them here. Or by using the hashtag #MyFlintStory on Instagram or Twitter.

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