Above: Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha of Hurley Medical Center announces that Flint children’s lead levels have skyrocketed under Flint water system
DWSD workers protest mass layoffs: “Do you want to drink Flint water?”
EM Darnell Earley disconnected Flint’s water system, is now EM over the Detroit Public Schools; both Rep. and Dem. leaders have destroyed DPS
Referendum petitions still circulating to mandate Detroit referendum on takeover of DWSD by Great Lakes Water Authority, set for Jan. 1, 2016.
By Diane Bukowski
October 13, 2015
(VOD; there is a news story below this from weather.com which summarizes events with Flint water.)
DETROIT–City workers from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Dept. (DWSD) conducted a contract negotiations protest outside the Detroit Water Board Building today, chanting, “Do you want to drink Flint water?” among other slogans.
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder announced Oct. 8 that he will “allow” the city of Flint to reconnect its water supply to Detroit’s, saying, “I’m in full support of the return to the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA). We all care about the citizens of Flint.”
Snyder did not acknowledge that the contract between the City of Detroit and the GLWA has not yet taken effect, pending the completion of what GLWA chair Robert Daddow called “precedent conditions.”
Local 207 members said mass lay-offs at DWSD have already endangered the six-county water supply. (Click on AFSCME207 Organizer180 10-7-15 to read about other specific union issues.)
Meanwhile, studies have shown that not only has Flint’s separated system resulted in water contaminated with fecal bacteria, but also with lead. Dr. Mona Hanna-Atisha of Hurley Medical Center in Flint (in video above) said her study showed lead levels in the blood of Flint’s majority-Black children jumped from 2.5 percent to 6.3 percent beginning in Jan. 1, 2015 to Sept. 15 this year, in certain zip codes.
Whether the citizens of Flint will benefit from being part of the GLWA remains open to serious question. The GLWA announced plans July 9 to further down-size the current DWSD infrastructure and workforce, increasing the likelihood that residents not only of Flint, but also of Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, St. Clair, Lapeer, Genesee, Washtenaw and Monroe counties will be exposed to contaminated water.
Meanwhile, the Coalition to Save the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department is circulating state-mandated petitions demanding that a referendum be placed on Detroit’s ballot to allow Detroiters to vote on the takeover of their system. If they vote “NO,” the contract would be invalidated under provisions of PA 233 of 1955. (See links below story for more information on the “Our Water Our Vote” campaign.)
The formation of the GLWA was part of the state-introduced, unconstitutional bankruptcy filing for the City of Detroit. A representative of Gov. Snyder sits on the GLWA board, along with one representative each from Oakland, Macomb, and Wayne Counties, and two from Detroit, all with connections to contractors who plan to profit from the transformation. The Detroit City Council will no longer approve such contracts and is currently not doing so for DWSD, according to Council President Brenda Jones.
As city workers protested downtown, others picketed a gala awards ceremony held by Jones Day, the global law firm which masterminded the Detroit bankruptcy. Awardees included U.S. District Judge Steven W. Rhodes, who heard the bankruptcy court proceedings, and Chief Judge Gerald Rosen, who acted as “mediator” in secret meetings connected with bankruptcy issues.
Protesters pointed out that among other matters, Rhodes allowed the payment of $537 million in illegal swap debt to DWSD creditor banks, while thousands of Detroit families continue to have their water shut-off due to their inability to pay skyrocketing water bills, in violation of United Nations declarations.
U.S. District Court Judge Sean Cox oversaw the proposal to form the GLWA during the bankruptcy proceedings. During his ongoing tenure as federal overseer of DWSD, 41 percent of its workers have been laid off, according to its director Sue McCormick, also interim director of the GLWA. The BOWC recently negotiated an agreement with the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to increase the levels of certain contaminants allowed in water from the DWSD.
The GLWA and the BOWC met jointly July 9, to approve frightening plans to downsize the GLWA significantly from the current DWSD, including:
- Dropping spending for water main replacement to $25 million a year, enough to repair only one one percent of the lines;
- Shutting down treatment plants and booster stations;
- Reducing capital improvement spending from $9 billion to $2.9 billion;
- Rescission of planned upgrades for 14 sites;
- Reducing GLWA’s daily pumping capacity from 1,760 million to 1,040 million gallons;
- Reduction of water intake sites from five to three.
DWSD’s Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP), currently run by contractor EMA, already caused a major crisis in August, 2014, according to DWSD retirees who worked there. They said the huge floods of that month in Detroit and its suburbs, as well as the water crisis in Toledo, Ohio, were directly linked to the cessation of 24/7 maintenance of sewage pumps and other equipment at the WWTP, the largest such facility in the U.S.
“They have reduced staffing to a skeleton crew,” Mike Mulholland, Pres. of AFSCME Local 207, said at the time. “Although there was a torrential rain Monday, the sewage pumps already were not working properly due to minimal maintenance. It is EMA’s intention to strip the plant down and run it remotely as much as it can. Instead of 24/7 maintenance, they only check equipment every few days. The pumping stations at the plant, the incinerators, and other equipment are close to catastrophic failure.”
DWSD retiree Bill Davis said three of the major sewage pumps at the WWTP were not working, having become clogged with sewage and seriously damaged.
On Oct. 12, a coalition of Detroiters under the banner of TRUE, an organization founded by activist Baxter Jones, held a prayer vigil at the Detroit’s U.S. Department of Justice offices on Michigan Avenue in the Federal Building calling for the USDOJ to intervene to stop Michigan’s emergency manager (EM) system. Most of the state’s majority-Black cities and school districts, including the Detroit Public Schools, are run by the state.
Darnell Earley, as EM of Flint, ordered its disconnection from the DWSD system in 2013 “to save money.” He is now EM of the Detroit Public Schools (DPS) and is continuing slash-and-burn policies of the state which have left Detroit children with virtually no public, neighborhood schools since 2005. Those policies have been carried out under Governors John Engler (R), Jennifer Granholm (D) and Gov. Snyder (R).
“It is a very sad day to learn our decision makers decided to compromise the safety of children and child bearing women in the name of greed,” Jones, who has been on a justice lead hunger strike since September 13th, said in a statement. “They have bullied us, and we must pray for the victims and stand fast in solidarity with them.”
Many water activists see the main problem as “Republican” Gov. Rick Snyder. Filmmaker/activist Mike Moore tweeted, “Republican governor takes over Flint, makes residents drink their own sewage.”
In this election year, during which U.S. Representatives and Senators and new candidates from the Republican and Democratic parties are sparring, many activists are being caught up in the “Go Left America” agenda backed by the Democratic Party.
However, the current Democratic administration of U.S. Pres. Barack Obama backed the Detroit bankruptcy during hearings, and earlier refused to conduct an investigation of Voting Rights Act violations in Public Act 4, the predecessor to Michigan’s current PA 436. History has shown that only action by the people themselves changes their circumstances, like the campaign for a people’s vote on the GLWA contract, the rebellions against police killings in Baltimore and elsewhere, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott during the Civil Rights Movement.
For more information on the Our Water Our Vote campaign, including links to petitions themselves, fliers, and instructions for circulating, see:
CONTAMINANTS INCLUDING LEAD FOUND IN FLINT DRINKING WATER; CITY TO RECONNECT TO DETROIT WATER SUPPLY
By Ada Carr
Published Oct 9 2015 02:21 PM EDT
Strange colors and smells seeped out of the faucets of Flint, Michigan, residents for more than a year, but officials assured them everything was fine. In recent weeks, it’s been revealed that residents had a right to be concerned; the water has been contaminated and has increased lead levels in the blood of some of the city’s children.
Last year, a boil order was issued when fecal coliform bacteria surfaced in some Flint neighborhoods, reports The New York Times. Extra chlorine was pumped into the water to combat the problem, but it seemed to only add increased levels of this new contaminant.
After switching to a temporary water supply in 2014, Flint officials seemed to have soothed residents. They sent out a notice in July, stating, “This is not an emergency. If a situation arises where the water is no longer safe to drink, you will be notified within 24 hours.”
Despite their reassurances, alarm spiked again when testing in recent weeks revealed increased levels of lead in the blood of some of Flint’s children. Health officials believe the water is a likely source.
According to the Detroit Free Press, Hurley Medical Center pediatrician Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha reviewed blood test results of some of the city’s children both before and after the city ended its water contract with Detroit and began taking water from the Flint River. In the 20 months before Sept. 15, 2013, the amount of children with elevated blood-lead levels jumped from 2.1 percent to 4.0 percent between Jan. 1 and Sept. 15 of this year.
Certain zip codes saw a more troubling change. According to Hanna-Attisha, there was an increase from 2.5 percent of lead found in the children tested to 6.3 percent.
“I was hoping not to find anything, but what we found … is concerning,” said Hanna-Attisha. “This is not something you mess around with. Our population already has so many issues from poverty, from unemployment, from violence.”
Flint’s water problems are the result of long-standing financial hardships. In 1960, the city had nearly 200,000 residents, but as auto plants closed, the population dropped by half. In 2011, the tax base shrank and an emergency manager was appointed to the city. The next four years lead to the city having four managers overseeing operations, and the water supply was switched.
Flint had purchased its water supply from Detroit for decades before the city’s leaders decided they could save millions by creating a new authority that would draw and treat its own water from the lake. However, before they could make this change, they would need an alternative water supply. They switched to drawing from the Flint River, which state officials say was a back up water source in the past. This change created a host of problems.
The city initially advised residents to run their water for five minutes before using it, to use only cold water for drinking and cooking and to install lead-removing water filters. Then, county officials issued an emergency advisory, recommending people not drink the water unless it was filtered or tested for lead. Fountains were shut off in local schools and private groups donated bottled water to them, as well as filters to families that could not afford them.
Officials claim that the water leaving their plant does not contain lead, but the chemistry in the water disturbs lead in the delivery pipes and plumbing fixtures in homes and businesses, the Detroit Free Press also reports.
Wednesday a panel of experts recommended that Flint reconnects to Detroit’s water system in an effort to restore the quality of the city’s drinking water.
A ten-point plan was issued Friday to address Flint’s troubled water system and it included free water testing, an allocation of $1 million for water filters for residents and complete anticorrosion treatment of the city’s water system.
Despite these actions, many residents feel the authorities let them down by taking so long to react.
“Anytime you have to weigh money against the health and welfare of people, it always has to be the health and welfare you go with,” Flint pastor Rev. Alfred Harris told The New York Times. Harris has stopped performing baptisms at his church because of concerns about the contaminants in the water. “We’ve been talking about this for the last 14 months, and they did not give a sincere ear to any of us. Shame on you!”
Another Flint resident, LeeAnne Walters, told The Times her four-year-old son who has immune system issues has had direct consequences as a result of consuming the water. He dropped to 27 pounds, much less than that of his twin brother and, according to Walters, he sometimes seemed unable to pronounce words he had already learned.
“He is going to deal with the side effects of this for the rest of his life. I don’t think there’s a word angry enough to describe my anger. I trusted the city, and I helped the city poison my kid,” said Walters.
In addition to securing funds, the city of Flint must also negotiate a contract with Detroit and Genesee County, which owns the transmission lines they need to carry water from Detroit’s main to Flint’s water plant.
The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department has been in discussions with Flint, William Wolfson, the department’s chief administrative and compliance officer, told the Free Press. According to him, when Flint disconnected from Detroit’s system, it was a “hard disconnect,” meaning the pipes would have to be joined again, a task Detroit would not charge any special fees for.
“The only change would be our labor charges,” said Wolfson, who declined to estimate a price.
According to John O’Brien of the Genesee County Drain Office, reconnecting could be completed in “about two weeks, once the agreement is reached with Detroit.”
However, he warns that the switch to Detroit’s water will not eliminate all of Flint’s lead issues. Like many communities, the city struggles with an aging infrastructure.
“I think the expectation is zero lead,” O’Brien told the Free Press. “I think the expectation is too high.