Flint — MSNBC host Rachel Maddow opened her talk show at a live town hall Wednesday on the Flint water crisis saying, “This is a disaster of national proportions and the problem is not being fixed.”
Picking up a lead pipe from the Flint water system and holding it out to the crowd at Brownell/Holmes STEM Academy in the city, she said: “We need to have a little come to Jesus moment here, because no one has even begun to fix the problem that caused this.”
Joining her for “American Disaster: The Crisis in Flint,” which aired at 9 p.m. Wednesday, were familiar faces from the water crisis: Mayor of Flint Karen Weaver, Virginia Tech professor Marc Edwards, UM-Flint professor Martin Kaufman and Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, who received a standing ovation for her work on exposing lead contamination in Flint children.
“There’s no precedent to handle this,” Edwards said. “The hurdles we face not just here but all across the country are that the records are so poor and records we do have are often wrong.”
Kaufman is working with a team at the college to rebuild the water records for the city. “Right now, we are trying to figure out where the lead pipes are and the hybrid pipes, and we estimate there are 25,000 lead service pipes in the city of Flint,” he said.
A key issue at the town hall — which also drew public figures such as state Rep. Sheldon Neeley, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow and the Rev. Charles Williams II, president at the National Action Network’s Michigan arm — was replacing the pipes.
“The trust has been broken, so we need trust that the bio film is built back up,” referring to the phosphate film coating that protects the pipes from corrosion is back in place and reassurances can be made to the residents of the city, Weaver said.
Broken trust in a city already beset with other woes was repeatedly mentioned throughout the broadcast, which included comments from local residents as well as questions for the panelists that centered on solutions.
“Lead impacts everybody, absolutely everybody — adults, seniors, pets,” Hanna-Attisha said. “We need the resources to get the interventions in place for the entire exposed population.”
Talk also turned to state oversight, which participants said played a role in the crisis. “They caused it — they have to step up and fix this,” Stabenow said.
Mary-Joyce Campbell, a retiree, came looking for answers. “Why are we prolonging this longer and longer, everyone is jumping on the bandwagon now, but we’ve been fighting this fight from 2014.”
Gov. Rick Snyder’s spokesman, Dave Murray, said the governor, who earlier Wednesday hosted a tele-town hall for Flint residents, applauded Maddow’s focus on Flint, saying: “Gov. Snyder said he appreciates that Ms. Maddow has brought continued attention to this issue, and hopes that tonight she focuses on the experts who brought these problems to light — Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech and Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha — and the people of Flint.”
Others at the town hall had a message for Snyder. Flint resident Jim Cole was not among those who have been calling for Snyder’s arrest.
“I don’t want to put Snyder in handcuffs,” Cole said. “He needs to move to a house in Flint. He needs to come here and live and see what we have to deal with every day.”