Flint Residents Outraged as Charges Dropped in Deadly Water Scandal (2023)

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

We end today’s show in Michigan, where on Tuesday the state Supreme Court threw out charges against Republican former Governor Rick Snyder, his former health director and seven other former officials for their role in the deadly Flint water crisis. The court ruled unanimously the judge who issued the indictments lacked authority to do so, because he acted as a, quote, “one-person grand jury.”

Judge Richard Bernstein wrote in a concurring opinion, quote, “The Flint water crisis stands as one of this country’s greatest betrayals of citizens by their government. Yet the prosecution of these defendants must adhere to proper procedural requirements because of the magnitude of the harm that was done to Flint residents,” unquote.

Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud, who helped lead the Flint prosecutions, said, quote, “These cases are not over,” and vowed to prove the allegations in court.

In 2014, Flint’s unelected emergency manager, appointed by Governor Snyder, switched the city’s water supply from the Detroit system, which Flint had been using for half a century, to the corrosive Flint River as a cost-saving measure. Soon after, Flint residents complained about discolored, foul-smelling water. First, the water was infested with bacteria. To treat the bacteria, the city poured in chlorine, which created cancerous chemical byproducts. Then a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, which is caused by a water-borne bacteria, spread through Flint, killing 12 people, sickening dozens, one of the largest recorded outbreaks in U.S. history. The change in Flint’s water supply also caused widespread lead poisoning in residents, particularly children, in the majority-Black city.

(Video) Flint Residents Outraged as Charges Dropped in Fatal Water Scandal That Poisoned Majority-Black City

In a minute, we’ll get response from two Flint residents who Democracy Now! first met in 2016 in Flint. We spoke to them for our documentary, Thirsty for Democracy: The Poisoning of an American City. This is Melissa Mays.

AMY GOODMAN: How have you been affected by the poisoned water?

MELISSA MAYS: Well, all three of my sons are anemic now. They have bone pain every single day. They miss a lot of school because they’re constantly sick. Their immune systems are compromised. Myself, I have seizures. I have diverticulosis now.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is Flint resident Nayyirah Shariff with the Democracy Defense League and Flint Rising, speaking to us in 2016.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what the big challenge is today?

NAYYIRAH SHARIFF: Well, there’s many people who don’t know like what to use with their water, with the lead in their water. Then, also there’s the challenge of accurate information, so that’s the need of us going door to door, handing out accurate information, lifting up like everyone’s stories, because everyone has been impacted by this water crisis, and to make sure that they have their basic needs met, so fresh water, filters, like replacement filters. So we’re also delivering those, too.

(Video) Court says indictments invalid in Flint water scandal

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Nayyirah Shariff, director of Flint Rising, a coalition of activists and advocates working to fix the Flint water crisis, back in 2016 when Democracy Now! went to Flint. She’s joining us now from Detroit, along with Melissa Mays, resident of Flint and organizer with the same group, with Flint Rising.

We welcome you both back to Democracy Now! Nayyirah, let’s start with you. Your response to the throwing out of the conviction [sic] of the governor of Michigan and his officials?

NAYYIRAH SHARIFF: Yes. I mean, this is the second time for some of these officials of being charged. And it really feels like the illusion — like justice is becoming an illusion for Flint residents.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Could you talk about — could you also respond to this and speak specifically about the role of Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel?

NAYYIRAH SHARIFF: I mean, this really feels like a slap in the face, because she ran on a platform that she was going to bring justice to Flint residents, and, you know, like less than six months of her taking office, like, the charges against folks were being dropped. And it took over a year for the next set of charges to be brought up, and now this is being dismissed.

And it’s really offensive, because one of the other things I wanted to lift up is, even though the Supreme Court said that this one-person grand jury is unusual, I mean, it’s pretty common, like, in poor communities within Michigan. There are dozens of cases right now — they’re active cases — that went through a one-person grand jury. So it really feels like there is one justice system for poor residents, including, like, residents in Genesee County, and another justice system if you’re the former governor or department head for the state of Michigan.

(Video) Flint will hear from prosecutors who dropped water charges

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s bring Melissa Mays into the conversation. You’re in Flint right now. You and Nayyirah were really the leaders at the time, at the height of the poisoning, whether we’re talking about Legionnaires’ disease or we’re talking about the lead poisoning of children. Melissa, lay out the scope of the problem, what happened in Flint.

MELISSA MAYS: Well, listening to our interviews from six years ago, not a lot has changed. Basically, the state is still making all of the decisions for us. They’re making the decisions about us without us. They have not even finished replacing our service lines. And with our federal lawsuit, our Safe Drinking Water Act lawsuit, this should have been done by 2020. But here we are, dragging it out, because the state is doing everything they can to avoid paying things. And actually, Flint Rising right now is going to an additional 1,419 homes that the city and state never even reached out to to get their pipes replaced. So that’s still going on. People still don’t have healthcare. We are still having to get people proper information.

So, again, the state has also spent tens of millions of dollars of our tax money to avoid justice, to drag out the civil cases, to drag out the criminal cases. And again, three years ago, almost to the day, Attorney General Dana Nessel threw out all of the criminal cases, that had been built for three years prior to that. And many of those were actually moving forward to trial for manslaughter, actual serious charges. But she tossed them out with no good reason — political issues, I guess. But again, this isn’t a political issue; this is a human rights issue.

We’re day 2,988 now without clean and safe water in Flint. And no one is being held accountable. No one is seeing justice. No one is seeing reparations in Flint. Our homes, our bodies, our lives are still damaged and destroyed, and the people responsible are getting away with it, because, like Nayyirah said, they have a — rich white folk and government have a whole different justice system than the rest of us.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Melissa, could you speak specifically about the federal Safe Drinking [Water] Act lawsuit, your lawsuit, to replace all of the lead in water service lines? What’s the status of that?

MELISSA MAYS: So, so far, there’s still thousands of homes remaining that have not been dug up. Basically, the pipes haven’t — the galvanized steel and lead service lines have not been replaced. We settled this in 2017, and it was supposed to be done by 2020. But the current mayor and the state went ahead and put a halt on it. They blamed COVID, even though the digging would be outside. And now they’re just dropping their hands, saying, “Uh, no, we’re done.” So we have to continue to go to court to push this, to say, “No, you have to take this out.”

(Video) Court says indictments invalid in Flint water scandal

And again, remember, service lines are only one piece. Unfortunately, our outdated laws only cover the service line, which is the pipe from your house to the street. The distribution mains in the street that are also damaged and destroyed and rupturing aren’t being replaced. And the interior plumbing inside of homes is also not being replaced. The plumbing, appliances, fixtures — all the things the water, the corrosive water, ate and destroyed, not being touched, so we’re having to do it ourselves. In my house, I have a bathroom that had to go down to the studs, and my kitchen had to go down to the studs, during COVID, because the water ate through lines and destroyed our floors, our countertop, our cabinet. I mean, it just goes on and on.

So, it’s continual punishment for living in Flint. And yet, while right now the infrastructure bill is going forward, thanks to the work that Flint residents have done to raise the issue and to push it, they’re not doing it right in Flint. And the problem is, if they don’t do it right here, they’re going to do this mess, this halfway, you know, piecemealed mess, across the country. And we can’t stand for that. So, Nayyirah and I are part of a greater coalition to fight to make sure the infrastructure bill is implemented right, with the right licensed plumbers, and make sure that people are safe, so this work isn’t in vain and people aren’t left worse off by a terrible job done and corners being cut, like what’s being done in Flint.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, Nayyirah, the Michigan Supreme Court threw out — and I said before the “convictions.” It’s the indictments against the governor and a number of his aides for the deadly Flint, Michigan, water crisis. Court ruling 6 to 0 the judge who issued the indictments did not have the authority to do so. That doesn’t mean that this case is thrown out, that it was just done procedurally wrong. So, how do you move ahead, on the one hand, holding these officials accountable, up to the governor, and then how you move ahead with dealing with this crisis today? I mean, talking about the lead poisoning of the children of Flint, a majority-Black city, what this means for the future, and ultimately — you’ve called this, actually, a crisis of democracy, because Snyder empowered unelected town managers that he put in place in mainly Black cities of Michigan to run your city and others.

NAYYIRAH SHARIFF: Yes. Well, you know, like, when the Supreme Court voided those indictments, it was really like a slap in the face. It just really felt like — you know, like, when are we going to actually receive justice? And in the eyes of many Flint residents, justice for them isn’t getting their lead service line replaced or — you know, today is actually the last day for residents to fill out their paperwork to be part of the civil lawsuit. It’s not that. It’s actually seeing someone convicted and going to jail for poisoning 100,000 Flint residents. And then, also, unfortunately, you know, the systems that created Michigan’s emergency management law is still on the books. And they’re actually looking to tweak it, because the city of Flint, Michigan —

AMY GOODMAN: Nayyirah, we have 15 seconds.

NAYYIRAH SHARIFF: OK — is going under financial distress. So, this is something that is going to be ongoing, and we have to continue to fight in the streets for justice that we deserve.

(Video) Michigan high court wipes charges against ex-Gov. Snyder, 8 others in Flint water crisis

AMY GOODMAN: And we will continue to follow this, as we did with the documentary, Thirsty for Democracy: The Poisoning of an American City. You can go to it online at democracynow.org. Nayyirah Shariff, director of Flint Rising, and Melissa Mays, resident of Flint and organizer with Flint Rising.

That does it for our show. A very happy birthday to Isis Phillips! I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Stay safe.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

FAQs

Why were Flint residents told to boil their water? ›

Over the following months, residents were twice advised to boil water because of the presence of dangerous levels of bacteria, and General Motors announced that the use of Flint River water at its plant was causing corrosion on newly machined engine parts.

How did Flint Michigan respond to the water crisis? ›

On April 25th, 2014, the city officials of Flint, Michigan made the conscious decision to switch their water supply to cut costs. Ultimately, this decision by city officials is what caused the increase of lead in the water and residents of Flint to be poisoned by their own water supply.

What really happened in Flint water crisis? ›

On April 25, 2014 officials from Flint, Michigan switched the city's water supply to the Flint River as a cost-cutting measure for the struggling city. In doing so, they unwittingly introduced lead-poisoned water into homes, in what would become a massive public-health crisis.

Has the Flint water crisis been resolved? ›

Although it's been seven years since the Flint water crisis became one of the state's biggest public health disasters, Flint's struggle with both the repercussions of the initial incident and with getting clean water have not ended. The court cases continue to unfold, and the city slowly replaces its lead lines.

Who was affected by the Flint water crisis? ›

The Flint water crisis was one of the country's worst public health crises in recent memory. The case became emblematic of racial inequality in the United States as it afflicted a city of about 100,000 people, more than half of whom are African-Americans.

What happened to change the water quality in Flint quizlet? ›

Flint's tap water became contaminated with high lead levels after the city turned to the Flint River to supply its water in April 2014.

What are some obstacles that Flint faces in resolving the water crisis? ›

Inadequate treatment and testing of the water resulted in a series of major water quality and health issues for Flint residents—issues that were chronically ignored, overlooked, and discounted by government officials even as complaints mounted that the foul-smelling, discolored, and off-tasting water piped into Flint ...

How did the Flint water crisis affect the children? ›

In addition to answering questions about lead screening and diagnoses, caregivers reported that after the crisis their children had experienced – beyond a “normal” level – hyperactivity (44%); emotional agitation (39%); comprehension issues or learning delays (29%); and skin rashes (39%).

What caused the water problem in Flint Michigan? ›

FLINT, Mich. (AP) — The Flint water crisis began in 2014 when the city began taking water from the Flint River without treating it properly, contaminating it with lead. April 2014: To save money, Flint begins drawing water from the Flint River for its 100,000 residents.

How was the Flint water treated? ›

A Change in Flint's Water Source

The DWSD water supply had been treated for corrosion control with orthophosphate for over 20 years and was on a maintenance dose of orthophosphate since its corrosion control treatment was fully optimized.

How could the Flint water problem have been prevented? ›

Scientists from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, unequivocally confirmed that the use of orthophosphate in the drinking water treatment process could have prevented the health crisis and contamination of hundreds in Flint.

How much would it cost to fix the Flint water crisis? ›

Flint water crisis costs Michigan $600 million—preventing it would have cost $80/day | Ars Technica.

How much will Flint residents get? ›

The settlement includes commitments of $600 million from the state of Michigan, $20 million from the city of Flint, $5 million from McLaren Regional Medical Center and $1.25 million from Flint-based engineering firm Rowe Professional Services Co., for their respective roles in the failure to protect city residents.

Is the water in Flint Michigan still contaminated? ›

The Flint water crisis is a public health crisis that started in 2014 after the drinking water for the city of Flint, Michigan was contaminated with lead and possibly Legionella bacteria.
...
Flint water crisis.
TimeApril 25, 2014 – January 24, 2017
TypeWater contamination: Lead Legionnaires' disease outbreak Coliform bacteria THMs
8 more rows

How do people in Flint get clean water? ›

EPA continues to recommend that Flint residents use NSF-certified filters in their homes to remove lead. EPA's latest sampling results confirm that these filters are effective in removing lead from drinking water, even at higher levels.

How many people did the Flint water crisis effect? ›

During April 25, 2014–October 15, 2015, approximately 99,000 residents of the City of Flint, MI, were exposed to lead when the drinking water source was switched from the Detroit Water Authority to the Flint Water System (FWS).

How many people are affected by lead in water? ›

Our new analysis found that between January 1, 2018, and December 31, 2020: 28 million people were served by 7,595 drinking water systems with 12,892 lead violations. 3 million people were served by 372 drinking water systems with over 530 health-based violations for lead.

How many children did Flint water crisis? ›

The impoverished city of Flint, Michigan is currently facing a lead poisoning crisis that is threatening the health and well being of more than 26,000 children.

What was the initial motive that caused of the water crisis in Flint Michigan quizlet? ›

The Flint water crisis began in 2014 when the Flint River became the drinking water source for the city of Flint, Michigan. Due to insufficient water treatment, over 100,000 residents were potentially exposed to high levels of lead in the drinking water.

What happened to change the water quality in Flint ?( 1 point? ›

While the water quality of the Flint River was poor as a result of unregulated discharges by industries and municipalities (Leonardi & Gruhn 2001), the principal reason for the switch was to ensure a sufficient quantity of water for the growing population (Carmody 2016).

How many days did Residents wait for water to switch back to Detroit Water? ›

Undrinkable: The Flint Water Emergency Documentary
1.In what year did General Motors open its doors in Flint, Michigan?1908
20. How many days did residents wait for water to switch back to Detroit water?174
21. How much did it cost to switch back?$12 Million
22 more rows

Does Flint have clean water yet? ›

Flint enters 6th straight year of compliance with water standards for lead. The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) today announced that the City of Flint's water system has entered its sixth consecutive year of meeting state and federal standards for lead in drinking water.

Where did Flint decide to temporarily get its water until the pipeline was complete? ›

NARRATOR: Instead of staying on the Detroit water supply while the pipeline was being built, the city would temporarily get its water from the Flint River. MALE NEWSREADER: —until a new water pipeline is finished from Lake Huron.

How much lead was in the Flint water? ›

Flint continues to make progress in reducing lead in its drinking water. In 2016, tests showed Flint's drinking water contained high levels of lead contamination (20 parts per billion).

How many children are in Flint MI? ›

Flint, MI Demographic Statistics
NumberPercent
Child42,04433.7
Own child under 18 years31,94225.6
Other relatives9,3267.5
Under 18 years4,9574.0
116 more rows

What happens when a child has lead poisoning? ›

Exposure to lead can seriously harm a child's health, including damage to the brain and nervous system, slowed growth and development, learning and behavior problems, and hearing and speech problems. Lead paint or dust are not the only ways lead exposure can occur in children.

Is the Flint River polluted? ›

After decades of industrial dumping by GM and its suppliers, the Flint River became polluted. In the 1960s, Flint started buying water from Detroit. In the spring 2014, under financial pressure, a State-appointed emergency manager switched back to the Flint River.

How was the Flint water treated? ›

A Change in Flint's Water Source

The DWSD water supply had been treated for corrosion control with orthophosphate for over 20 years and was on a maintenance dose of orthophosphate since its corrosion control treatment was fully optimized.

What poisoned the water in Flint Michigan? ›

Flint was in a financial state of emergency and the switch was meant to save the city millions of dollars. But the water from the river was more corrosive than Lake Huron's water and was not treated properly, causing lead - a powerful neurotoxin - to leach from the pipes.

Is Flint water safe to drink now? ›

EPA continues to recommend that Flint residents use NSF-certified filters in their homes to remove lead. EPA's latest sampling results confirm that these filters are effective in removing lead from drinking water, even at higher levels. Q.

How could the Flint water problem have been prevented? ›

Scientists from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, unequivocally confirmed that the use of orthophosphate in the drinking water treatment process could have prevented the health crisis and contamination of hundreds in Flint.

Does Flint have clean water yet? ›

Flint enters 6th straight year of compliance with water standards for lead. The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) today announced that the City of Flint's water system has entered its sixth consecutive year of meeting state and federal standards for lead in drinking water.

How clean is the Flint River? ›

Flint Water Quality Update

Since July 2016, the city of Flint's water system has met state and federal standards for lead in drinking water for 12 consecutive monitoring periods. The latest six-month round of monitoring shows Flint's 90th percentile at 10 parts per billion (ppb), below the requirement of 15 ppb.

How is water treated at a water plant? ›

Water treatment plants can use a process called ultrafiltration in addition to or instead of traditional filtration. During ultrafiltration, the water goes through a filter membrane with very small pores. This filter only lets through water and other small molecules (such as salts and tiny, charged molecules).

What was the main issue that led to all the problems seen in the Flint water supply? ›

Flint's tap water became contaminated with high lead levels after the city turned to the Flint River to supply its water in April 2014. When they switched, officials didn't use a corrosion-control treatment to maintain the stability of rust layers (containing lead) inside service lines.

Is Detroit water safe to drink? ›

The City of Detroit's drinking water is clean and safe to drink and it meets or exceeds all federal and state regulatory standards under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

How much lead was in the Flint water? ›

In February 2015, the City of Flint sampled Flint resident Lee Ann Walters' home and found lead in her water at a concentration of 104 μg/L (e-mail correspondence between US Environmental Protection Agency [USEPA] Region 5 and MDEQ dated Feb. 26, 2015; Flint Water Advisory Task Force 2016).

Can you shower in Flint Michigan? ›

Scientists say municipal water in Flint, Michigan, has gotten much better in recent months and is safe for handwashing, showering and bathing.

Is Flint a black city? ›

Race & Ethnicity

The largest Flint city racial/ethnic groups are Black (53.0%) followed by White (36.3%) and Two or More (5.3%).

How much would it cost to fix Flint water? ›

Flint water crisis costs Michigan $600 million—preventing it would have cost $80/day.

Who is responsible for the lead in the Flint water? ›

October 26 – An EPA report finds fault with Michigan's oversight of Flint's drinking water system, placing the most blame with the MDEQ. October 31 – The city council votes to extend its contract with the GLWA for another 30 days while a long-term deal is pending.

How did the Flint water crisis affect the children? ›

In addition to answering questions about lead screening and diagnoses, caregivers reported that after the crisis their children had experienced – beyond a “normal” level – hyperactivity (44%); emotional agitation (39%); comprehension issues or learning delays (29%); and skin rashes (39%).

Why is the Flint water crisis important to public health? ›

Discussion: The Flint water crisis highlights the need for improved risk communication strategies, and environmental health infrastructure, enhanced surveillance, and primary prevention to identify and respond to environmental threats to the public's health.

Videos

1. Flint's Deadly Water (full documentary) | FRONTLINE
(FRONTLINE PBS | Official)
2. US: Anger as prosecutors drop charges over Flint poisoned water
(Al Jazeera English)
3. Failure in Flint: Inside the Water Crisis
(Click On Detroit | Local 4 | WDIV)
4. Another official to face manslaughter charge in Flint water
(FOX 47 News)
5. Eden Wells arraignment in Flint water charges
(Click On Detroit | Local 4 | WDIV)
6. Dr. Eden Wells heading to trial on Flint water charges
(WNEM TV5)
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