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The Blue & Gray Press | October 18, 2017

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Staff Ed: Flint water crisis promotes discussion

Staff Ed: Flint water crisis promotes discussion

By THE BLUE & GRAY PRESS STAFF

Speaking out can make an impact. Saying what you know to be true can produce results. Sometimes, however, needed actions can come too late.

President Obama declared a state of emergency for Flint, Michigan on Saturday, Jan. 16 as the city containing nearly 100,000 people discovered toxic levels of lead in their drinking water.

The lead has disproportionately affected children and poorer members of the city. According to the Washington Post, the concern about the drinking water began shortly after the state government in Michigan switched the water supply in Flint from Lake Huron to the Flint River. The corrosion-control additives that are usually present to prevent harmful material from entering the water supply were not added, allowing rust, iron and lead to enter residents’ drinking water.  

There were reports of discoloration and bad odor coming from the water. In addition, rashes crept up and were believed to be caused by something in the drinking water. Flint pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha conducted lead tests of 1,750 children taken at the area hospital where she worked, after hearing about possible high levels of lead in the water from Virginia Tech professor Marc Edwards. The percentage of lead poisoning among children, Hanna-Attisha found, had doubled or tripled in some neighborhoods, correlating where the lead levels in the water were highest. Lead poisoning can cause behavioral or attention issues, hearing problems, kidney damage, a reduced IQ and slowed body growth, according to a page on the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s website.   

Though concerns had been raised since the water supply was changed, the government in Flint, including Michigan’s state governor, Rick Snyder, had largely ignored claims and told citizens that the water was safe to drink, only suggesting short-term measures such as boiling the water. As of now, it is clear the water was not safe.  

In instances where aid can come too late, it should not be the fault of people who are speaking. They should not be chided to speak louder, when those who are responsible to enact change have not listened.  

The crisis in Flint and its effect on thousands of people has brought several issues to the forefront. Debates have arisen about the environmental concerns of the water crisis, the state and federal government’s involvement in the crisis as well as the reasoning behind switching the water supply in the first place. Was it only a way to save money? When officials ignored residents’ concerns, were their comments ignored because a large portion of the population was poor and black?

The environment, how much the state and federal government should be involved in peoples’ lives, the character of elected leaders and black lives are all issues that students at the University of Mary Washington come across on a daily basis, and for many, issues that they discuss and take action for. Social consciousness, the desire to be aware of important issues come through in social media posts, classroom discussions and weekly meetings among many UMW student groups.

The Ecology Club and DivestUMW regularly address and take action to promote environmental sustainability. The James Farmer Multicultural Center and the Black, Islamic, Latino and Jewish student associations and Feminists United also frequently host open meetings and discuss issues of race that affect them daily. To those who are standing and speaking against corruption, racism and carelessness, we at The Blue & Gray Press encourage you to keep speaking. For those who have influence and who may have had concerns directed at you by students on campus, we ask for you to listen and understand the power of a voice and the power of a life. For us at The Blue & Gray, we will continue to listen and act when you speak to us, and to be informed, accurate and compassionate. To provide assistance and clean water to Flint, Mich., visit the Flint Water Fund at http://www.unitedwaygenesee.org/.