Killing Flint

Flint, Michigan is about 70 miles from Detroit – about the same distance as Rochester from Buffalo. For half a century, Flint’s running water came from Detroit, but at great expense – about $12 million per year by 2014. That year, a decision was made to supply Flint with drinking water from the Flint River until a long-planned, equally delayed Karegnondi Water Authority pipeline from Lake Huron could be completed. When the pipeline is completed, Flint could expect to save about $3 million per year.

It was supposed to save the city $5 million per year until the new pipeline comes online. Overall, switching from Detroit water was supposed to save the city of Flint $19 million over 8 years – a no-brainer, on paper. When the Flint city council voted to join the Karegnondi Water Authority, Detroit gave Flint a contractual one-year termination notice, and Flint spent $4 million to update its own water treatment plant in order to handle Flint River waterThe city of Flint made the switch in mid-March 2014, with approval from Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality; Flint water began flowing from faucets in April. Complaints, too, quickly began pouring in. The water smelled bad. It tasted bad. It was hard water. The city and state maintained, however, that it was all perfectly safe. 

But four months in, testing revealed excessive bacteria rates, and Flint residents were advised to boil their water. GM wouldn’t use Flint water at its local manufacturing plants for fear of corrosion. By January 2015, testing revealed excessive levels of trihalomethanes – TTHM – in the water. TTHM is a chemical byproduct of water disinfectants, and can cause cancer and other ailments. Flint was slow to react, and when Detroit offered to reconnect its supply and waive the $4 million fee, Flint rejected that, even when Detroit offered to do so with no long-term contract. City leaders appealed to the state for help, and the DEQ said everything was safe and under control.

A water consulting company the city retained also said that the discoloration and sediment was a problem, but that the water remained safe to drink and use. That same company – Veolia – manages the city of Buffalo’s water supply

By March 2015, Flint was forced to spend an additional $4.6 million to add carbon filters and other changes to try and improve the water quality. The city council finally voted to reconnect to Detroit’s system, but emergency manager Jerry Ambrose said Detroit water was “no safer” and opposed the move.

In early September 2015, researchers from the Virginia Tech found that the corrosive Flint water was damaging the lead delivery pipes, causing lead to leach into the water supply. Soon, local physicians and hospitals recorded a spike in Flint children’s blood lead levels. By October 1st, the county had declared an emergency, and asked people to not drink the water in Flint. Governor Rick Snyder announced the state would spend $1 million for new water filters, but didn’t commit to reconnecting the supply to Detroit’s. Flint’s technical advisory committee recommended immediate switch to Detroit water. By early October, the governor announced a $12 milliion plan to do just that.

Today, the city that Michael Moore made famous is back in the spotlight. During the Reagan Administration, Flint became famous as an example of the ugly byproduct of globalization and the deification of profit and shareholder return. It was the city that Reaganomics left behind. Except statistics show that most people and most places have been left behind thanks to Reaganomics – supply-side, trickle-down theory that never worked.

Well, that’s not entirely true.

It worked, alright. It worked for the moneyed elites. It worked for big business. Cutting taxes on the wealthy and big business worked great for them. Carving out special loopholes in the tax code to enable the superwealthy to avoid paying taxes while the rest of us rubes financed wars and deficits and tax cuts worked great for some people. We bail out megabanks and insurance conglomerates but scoff at people on WIC or food stamps. We subsidize massive private enterprise but wonder when “entitlement America” is going to pull itself up by its bootstraps and get a job, already.

Flint is merely a symptom of a nationwide disease. If people sincerely want to make America great again, then they need to make the middle class strong again, rather than sacrifice it to appease our billionaire gods.

Flint, Michigan shows that penny wise is, indeed, pound foolish. Switch to the corrosive, dangerous water supply to save a few bucks, and spend far, far more to concoct emergency fixes. End up right back at square one with millions of dollars squandered and thousands sickened. Spend millions more over years to deal with the social cost of poisoning people with lead, a neurotoxin.

Flint is now a federal disaster area. There are open criminal investigations with the state’s attorney general and the Department of Justice.

But Flint is special. It’s a city in receivership, administered by an emergency manager appointed by the Governor. The emergency managers maintained that Flint River water was safe from the moment the first complaints came in. When the TTHM problems arose, the city council wanted to switch back to Detroit water, but the emergency manager hired Veolia, instead. When the Mayor pleaded for help, the emergency manager said they were working on it, but resisted switching back to Detroit’s supply.

Poison people to save a few bucks. Save a few bucks and end up costing taxpayers exponentially more to fix the unnecessary resulting crisis.


It was not until Jan. 5 that Snyder declared a state of emergency and Jan. 12 that he mobilized the National Guard to assist with distribution of bottled water and water filters. Although the state helped Flint switch back to Detroit water in October, danger remains because of damage the Flint River water did to the water distribution system. President Obama declared a federal state of emergency in Flint on January 16.

A problem that first manifested itself in 2014 is only now being addressed in a remotely serious manner. It bears mentioning that the population of Flint is largely poor, and predominately African American. These people matter. They deserve better. They deserve better than to be used as guinea pigs in some sick penny-pinching experiment. They deserve better than to be completely let down by government at all levels, which is almost pathologically looking for “cheap” rather than “quality”. The Wal*Martization of the delivery of government services.

Now, the state’s Republican governor is in full CYA mode. He is pledging $28 million to temporarily alleviate a problem that never had to happen in the first place, but was carried out to save a small fraction of that.

Flint is the result of bad government, bad governance, and a selective refusal to do the right thing. Flint is what happens when the system breaks down and regulations mean nothing. It is a catastrophe with a massive human toll.

The thing that’s scary is that if you get in just the right people who worship “smaller government” and are willing to cut corners to save a few dollars, and do so without considering the consequences, it could happen here, too.

All Hail Our Armed Corporate Overlords

1. F your gun

A 12 year-old New Mexico boy brought a .20 gauge shotgun to school.  He shot three times, hit two classmates. One is ok, the other was shot in the face and neck, and is in critical condition. 

…the suspected shooter’s family issued a statement Wednesday saying they were heartbroken and that their remorse could not be put into words. They said the two children who were injured have been in their thoughts and prayers.

“We are horribly sad over this tragedy on so many levels,” the family stated. “We are praying that God will be with everyone who has been affected.”

The family added it will cooperate with law enforcement to “piece together how this awful tragedy occurred.”

The gun came from home. Maybe the family could take its prayers and condolences, double-check their homeowner’s insurance, prepare for the lawsuit they so richly deserve, and properly secure their weapons.

As of December 14, 2013, there had been 26 school shootings since the tragedy in Newtown, CT. But we’re told we don’t have a gun problem. Not at all.  Yet for some reason, school shootings are an overwhelmingly American problem

What would you expect their logo to look like?

2. The Freedom to Pollute Shall not be Infringed

Freedom Industries recklessly poisoned the water supply of 300,000 West Virginians last week. Poor oversight, crappy facilities, a laughably inadequate response, environmental carelessness – ignorance, all contributed to a catastrophe that people still don’t quite get. 

Here’s what I get. When you elevate “job creators” above “people”; when you lionize big corporate interests over clean water and people’s health; when you abandon or reject regulation and oversight of industries that pose a continuing imminent threat of mass poisoning, you have ceased to maintain a proper representative democracy. From the Charleston Gazette

While DEP has said it hasn’t inspected the site since 1991, when it was owned by Pennzoil, Kolb and Bauerle said Monday that the agency had looked into a previous odor complaint at the site and another odor complaint in St. Albans related to a company called Diversified Services, which handles shipping of materials for Freedom Industries.

Kolb and Bauerle arrived at the operation shortly after 11 a.m. In the parking lot, they met Kanawha County fire coordinator C.W. Sigman, whose office was also looking into residents’ odor complaints.

The DEP officials went to the office, where Dennis P. Farrell, who identified himself as president of the company, greeted them. They told Farrell about the odors and asked if the facility was having any problems.

“He said as far as he knew this was a busy time of year. They were just handling a lot of trailers,” Kolb said. “As far as he knew, there weren’t any problems.”

The DEP officials asked Kolb to show them around the facility. When they went outside, an employee asked to speak to Farrell. After that conversation, Farrell told the DEP officials there was a problem, and led them to tank 396.

There, the DEP officials said, they found a 400-square-foot pool of chemical that had leaked from the tank into a block containment area. Pressure from the material leaking out of the tank created what DEP officials called an “up-swelling,” or an artesian well, like a fountain of chemical coming up from the pool.

They saw a 4-foot-wide stream of chemicals heading for the containment area’s wall, and disappearing into the joint between the dike’s wall and floor.

Initially, no one saw the chemical pouring into the Elk River. 

This disaster is a direct result of bad right-wing/glibertarian laissez faire environmental and regulatory policies. You know – the notion that “job-killing regulations” are worse than people-poisoning absence of regulations. 

Instead of rounding people up into death camps, FEMA provided water to the nine affected counties pursuant to a declared federal state of emergency. The area where this happened is known as “chemical alley”. When the pointy-headed nerds from the federal Chemical Safety Board and local environmental groups encouraged West Virginia to improve its oversight and regulations in the area, but no one wanted to do it because jobs and freedom

This is the libertarian/conservative dream scenario. Lack of oversight to prevent catastrophe, and inadequate or non-existent health insurance to treat injuries resulting from it. Add “tort reform” to the mix, to prevent or dramatically restrict liability for wrongdoing, and we might as well elect Freedom Industries and its ilk as dictator-for-life. 

Contamination, USA

The problem with weak environmental regulation is that yesterday’s pollution is today’s contamination.

The long-gone lead smelters in Buffalo and Niagara Falls are still poisoning people, to this day. This is an important report from USA Today and Gannett stations like WGRZ, and should hopefully open up a national conversation about remediating contaminated properties such as these. USA Today’s interactive feature is here

Critical Shortage of Global Warming Jokes

You know how your semi-informed friends and co-workers love to make facile jokes about “some global warming, eh?” when the snow falls, the wind blows, and the temperature dips into – or past – the single digits?

Click to enlarge

Not so much this year, amirite?

Of course, nine of the ten warmest years on record on Earth have taken place since 2000, with 2011 being the 9th warmest. Climate change / global warming is an empirically real thing, political agenda notwithstanding. Global warming is something you can’t learn from renowned physicists Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh, and it isn’t something you measure anecdotally with our local daily forecast.

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