Panelists: Flint water crisis impact will last decades

Nicquel Terry Ellis
The Detroit News

Detroit— The impact of Flint's lead-tainted water could last decades, affecting children whose development could be hurt and causing generations of residents to lose trust in government, panelists on the water crisis said Thursday. 

Detroit News reporter Leonard Fleming makes a point during the Flint water discussion. Beside him are attorney Cynthia Lindsey and Dr. Lawrence Reynolds.

Discussion included long-term health effects for children exposed to the lead-tainted water, response from Flint residents, the legal ramifications and what it will take to fully recover. Lead leached into the city's water after Flint switched its municipal source to the Flint River in April 2014.

Despite what officials say about the water being safe, residents remain leery of drinking tap water, said panelist Leonard Fleming, a Detroit News reporter who has extensively covered the Flint water crisis for the past two years.

“They don’t trust government officials," said Fleming. "It could take a generation or two for residents to trust the city and state again and its water."

Dr. Lawrence Reynolds, who was on the governor's Flint task force, said some health officials have tried to minimize the effects of the water on residents.  There are babies who drank lead-tainted formula for six to nine months and could see serious disabilities later in life, Reynolds said. 

"It was a civil rights crisis, a human rights crisis and environmental racism," Reynolds said of the Flint water crisis. "And there is no excuse for what was done."  

Cynthia Lindsey, an attorney representing Flint residents in a class-action lawsuit, said it could take three to four years for the legal process to play out. 

“This is one of the most monumental and important cases of my life,” Lindsey said. “And I am going to fight until I get justice for our people.”

Isaiah Oliver, president of the Community Foundation of Greater Flint, said Flint's recovery will require pipe replacement, clean drinking water, long-term health care and affordable water.

"Somebody has to be held accountable," Oliver said. 

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver was scheduled for the panel but could not make it, said Flint WEYI-TV anchor Mike Woolfolk, who moderated the forum.