Bankole: Give Flint a clean bill of health

Bankole Thompson
The Detroit News

The Flint saga continues to haunt us. Three years after what became a global public health scandal, a neglect that questioned the basic functioning of government, city residents are still trying to recover from the shock that roughly 10,000 of their children were exposed to lead-tainted water for 18 months.

To add insult to injury, the state last month informed Flint residents that applying credits to their water bills would end Feb. 28. That means the impoverished city’s residents are back to paying for water that they don’t feel is safe. They have been deceived before by government. They don’t want to be deceived twice.

And lest we forget, the state has yet to fully appropriate sufficient resources for the disaster it helped create and is now under investigation by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette.

The reason the state gave for ending the credits is that the water in Flint now meets federal standards. But at the same time the state is recommending that residents continue using filters it will be providing as a precaution.

That is a confusing message the state is sending. Either the water has met federal standards and is drinkable without filters, or the state itself doesn’t trust the so-called federal standard it cited. Another issue such a chaotic recommendation raises is whether other cities whose water meets the federal standards are using filters as a precaution? The state needs to provide some clarity here.

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician who was key in exposing the water crisis, remains skeptical about the state’s latest action.

“For years, Flint residents paid the highest water rates in the country for water that was and continues to be unsafe to drink. The people of Flint should not pay for water today nor for years to come,” she told ABC News.

Upon receiving the letter from Gov. Rick Snyder’s office ending the water credits, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said: “This is a trust issue. State officials say one thing, then they do something different. That has always been one of my concerns and that of the community as well. So, let’s not forget that. Let’s hold the state accountable.”

The people of Flint are truly deserving of a clean bill of health — an infrastructure package from Lansing that will deal with both the health concerns as well as the structural issues that significantly contributed to the crisis — from the state after all that they have undergone since the revelation of the crisis.

They do not deserve to be treated like an expendable population, or in a way that suggests they should be content with what has been provided.

The actions of the state toward Flint are a sharp contradiction to Snyder’s 2016 State of the State address, in which he went all out to give assurances about handling a crisis that had arrested the nation’s attention.

“This month I issued an executive order to ensure that state and local leaders have everything they need to clean up this mess. Ensure that anyone with lingering health care concerns is quickly, compassionately and effectively treated. I know there will be long-term consequences, but I want you to know that we’ll be there with long-term solutions for as long as it takes to make this right,” Snyder said at the time.

“There can be no excuse. When Michiganders turn on the tap, they expect and deserve clean, safe water. It’s that simple. It’s that straightforward. So that’s what we will deliver,” he added. “To the families in Flint, it is my responsibility, my commitment to deliver; I give you my commitment that Michigan will not let you down.”

The tone of that speech differs from what is happening. I was encouraged then by the governor’s response, not only in accepting full responsibility but also committing to providing much needed resources down the line to make sure that the residents are made whole.

Granted, the state can point to efforts it has been engaged in since the problems emerged, including the $28 million in emergency funding legislators approved last year. But that is not nearly enough.

What Flint needs now is an affirmative declaration followed by serious action that demonstrates that the conditions of the city are still a priority for state government.

No city in Michigan should have to think twice before drinking its water. That is what is happening in Flint.

There was panic in Detroit when a water advisory was issued two weeks ago that residents spend two days boiling water before using it as a safeguard when a valve malfunction and low pressure in the system raised concerns about potential bacteria.

Imagine what Flint residents went through in 18 months, and what they are going through now.

Snyder can lead the way by demanding that legislators hand him an infrastructure package that will assure a clean bill of health for Flint. Support for such a proposal should be beyond partisan bickering and divisions, because what we have in Flint is a humanitarian crisis.

Twitter: @bankieT

The writer hosts “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which is broadcast at noon weekdays on Super Station 910AM. This column appears Mondays and Thursdays.