The first time I wrote about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, was in January 2016 in a piece titled Just Don’t Drink the Water. Since then, I have written twice more about the ineptitude on the part of nearly every party involved from Michgan Governor Rick Snyder to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Today I add Part IV of the ongoing saga.
Today brings the news that …
“Five Michigan officials, including the head of the state health department, have been charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection with the crisis over lead poisoning in drinking water in Flint.” – The Guardian, 14 June 2017
While this is excellent news in the sense of holding people accountable – people who were so negligent in doing their jobs that it caused a loss of human life – it does nothing to rectify the current situation in Flint nor to help the people of Flint, many of whom must still rely on bottled water.
The five who are charged with manslaughter are:
- Nick Lyon, head of the State Health Department
- Stephen Busch, regional supervisor for Michigan Department of Environment
- Liane Shekter-Smith, state head of drinking water
- Howard Croft, former Director of Public Works for Flint
- Darnell Earley, the emergency manager who ordered the disastrous water switch
Twelve others have been charged with lesser crimes, including Dr. Eden Wells, the top medical official who is charged with misconduct in office for allegedly threatening to withhold funding for a research project after researchers started looking into the legionella outbreak. Dr. Wells and Mr. Lyon remain in their jobs as of this writing, as Governor Snyder claims they are “instrumental to Flint’s recovery”.
As telling as the 17 who have been charged in this disaster is the one who has not: Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. There has been so much finger-pointing, cover-up, blame-deflection and more cover-up that “who knew what and when did they know it” has long been lost in the chaos. But there is very little doubt that Rick Snyder knew more than he admits, earlier than he claims, and could have done much to keep the situation from escalating into a full-blown crisis where at least twelve people died from Legionnaires’ disease. One of those twelve was 85-year-old Robert Skidmore, who left behind three sons, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. He had worked at General Motors’ Fisher body plant for 37 years.
As I said, this is good news, to see corrupt officials being held accountable for their actions. But it is not enough. No, other than perhaps some bit of personal satisfaction, this really does nothing to help the people of Flint, half of whom are below poverty level, and some of whom are facing eviction by the city for unpaid water bills!!! As I said 17 months ago, the demographics of Flint are primarily African-American, below poverty level – if this were a mostly-white community, would this fiasco have been allowed to go on for more than two years now? I think we all know the answer to that question.
An interesting footnote: In my first post I predicted that eventually there would be a movie or two made about the Flint water crisis. Lo and Behold! It was recently announced that Cher will reportedly play a woman whose family is affected by the contamination of the city’s drinking water. The Poisoning of an American City by Josh Sanburn will be directed by Bruce Beresford of Driving Miss Daisy fame. Cher, by the way, personally donated thousands of bottles of drinking water to Flint last year. And it is also expected to be the subject of a documentary produced by Paul Haggis, director of Crash.
For those who may have missed the previous posts or who wish to refresh their memories, here are links to my first three posts about the Flint crisis: