Last spring the city of Flint, Michigan changed the source of their water supply and began sourcing water from the Flint River. Though experts recommended the use of corrosion control to prevent lead from entering the water, city officials declined and went ahead with the water supply switch. Residents quickly noticed unusual, hazardous changes in their water and complained about yellow, foul-smelling water that causes rashes and other health problems.
The untreated water from the Flint River corroded pipes and absorbed lead as it was pumped into homes across the city. The now orange water that comes out of taps in Flint contains seriously toxic levels of lead. The EPA allows lead in levels of 15 parts per billion (ppb) for at-risk homes. Water samples taken from Flint homes register between 25 ppb and 1,000 ppb.
Lead poisoning can damage the nervous system, reproductive system, and kidneys. It can cause high blood pressure and anemia, and interferes with the body’s ability to metabolize calcium and vitamin D. But lead is most dangerous to the developing brains of children. Lead can cause learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and impair cognitive functioning. At high levels, it can cause death.
Residents of Flint have filed a class action case against the City of Flint, the State of Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder, and multiple city officials, accusing all of failing to provide safe drinking water. The complaint includes four counts against the parties:
Breach of contract– the state, city, and city officials were obligated to supply safe drinking water to the residents of Flint.
Unjust enrichment-the defendants used money paid by Flint residents for clean water (in the form of water bills) without providing clean water.
Breach of implied warranty– The city implied the water was drinkable, but now admits to supplying poisonous water.
Violation of consumer protection act– The state, city, and city officials knew the water was poisonous but published false reports of safe drinking water.
We often take clean drinking water for granted and don’t think about where our water comes from until contamination accidents and lead poisoning forces us to notice.
The Safe Water Drinking Act (SWDA) requires strict regulations on public water systems. In 2009 the New York Times reported that over 20% of the country’s water treatment systems have violated provisions of the SWDA since the year 2004. That chemical-laced water was provided to more than 49 million people across the United States.
The problem persists. Each year millions of illnesses in the United States are linked to contaminated water. In 2014, a chemical spill in West Virginia left 300,000 residents without tap water. That same year 80 tons of coal ash, a toxic byproduct of coal that is burned for electricity, leaked into the Dan River in North Carolina. In 2015, the Gold King Mine leaked 3 million gallons of mine waste water into the pristine Animas River in Colorado. The mine waste water contained heavy metals like cadmium, lead, and arsenic.
Contaminants, even in the tiniest amounts, can cause birth defects, cancers, and organ damage. If you believe your drinking water is contaminated, contact your local environmental governmental agency along with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Your city, state, and national government is required to protect you from drinking water contaminants.