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Mark Ruffalo says Flint is a national disaster

Jacob Carah
Special to The Detroit News
Mark Ruffalo with Flint resident Melissa Mays speaks out Monday at St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church in Flint.

Flint — Oscar-nominated actor and water activist Mark Ruffalo listened to residents vent frustration over the city’s lead-tainted water system Monday, then expressed his own outrage.

Ruffalo and Van Jones, a CNN political commentator, were joined by a group of activists in the basement of St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church near the city’s downtown on Monday to discuss the needs of the people of Flint in dealing with the city’s municipal water supply disaster.

At the gathering, Ruffalo said what occurred in Flint is a crisis of credibility from the government.

“From the federal government and state government, and I am imploring President Obama to consider Flint, Michigan, a national disaster starting today,” he said.

Gov. Rick Snyder has asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reconsider his request for more federal funding and resources to assist the beleaguered city. The agency had denied Snyder’s original request to declare a major disaster in late January. His initial inquiry to the Obama administration requested $96 million in disaster relief.

FEMA had said it couldn’t recommend declaring a federal emergency in Flint under the law, which says only natural catastrophes, fires, floods or explosions warrant a major disaster declaration.

On Monday, Ruffalo also called on environmental and social justice groups to come to Flint’s aid.

“It’s no different than the negligence that happened in Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when certain government officials decided it was better not to fix the dikes, and those dikes failed and those peoples lives were negatively affected,” he said.

Ruffalo said the only “conceivable” justice is for the federal government to declare Flint a national disaster.

“You have to fight for what you love and what you believe in,” he said. “No one is going to do this for you. You’ve got to take it yourself.”

Jones said additional aid for Flint will come when more people demand it.

“I don’t think many ordinary Americans knew about this until this week when it became such a big deal in the presidential campaign,” he said.

Jones added he thinks many people around country also assume the city’s lead problem is being taken care of.

“It’s not being taken care of,” he said. “People in Flint think more is being done than is actually being done. The federal and state government both need to step up.”

Two mothers at the event Monday shared stories of health challenges and loss.

Nakia Wakes, an activist and mother of two, said she believes the health issues she and her family are dealing with was caused by lead-tainted water.

“Both of my sons have tested positive for levels of lead,” she said. “My son has had behavioral problems in school and has been suspended 56 times from school this year.”

Wakes said she will not stop working until all pipes in Flint have been replaced and residents are compensated for their water bills.

Desiree Duell, a single mother, artist and activist, said she became ill with an upper respiratory infection in fall 2014.

“One day, I was getting out of the shower and my ear started bleeding,” she said.

Duell claims hair loss followed until she stopped using Flint water.

“Not only is the water in my house poisoned, my body is poisoned, and I’m trapped in a home I cannot sell,” she said.

Ruffalo, his voice rising as he spoke, responded: “Mothers shouldn’t be having to deliver water to their community. Mothers shouldn’t be up here telling you that they’re losing their hair and that blood is coming out of their ears.”