Numerous green and progressive groups sent a letter to federal agencies Tuesday demanding that the federal government investigate the water crisis in Flint, Michigan for civil rights violations and racism.
The letter asks the Department of Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to review whether the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) violated the civil rights of Flint residents or allowed the water supply to be contaminated for racist reasons. The letter was signed by The Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Food & Water Watch, a local chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and numerous other social justice groups.
“MDEQ demonstrated callous and unjustifiable indifference to the concerns of Flint’s residents – most of whom are African American – before, during and after the switch to Flint River water,” the letter states. “Despite noting the poor quality of water in the Flint River, MDEQ disregarded the complaints of residents and failed to take the most basic steps to protect their health.”
However, the very agencies the letter was addressed to already played a major role in exacerbating the crisis. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) top Midwest official knew about the Flint, Michigan drinking water crisis of 2015 months before telling the public, according to a report by the The Detroit News.
An EPA water expert identified potential problems with Flint’s drinking water last February and confirmed the suspicions in April. He then authored an internal memo about the problem in June, according to documents obtained by Virginia Tech. EPA official Susan Hedman elected not to publicize the EPA’s concern over Flint’s water quality or the water’s dangerous health concerns. The federal agency sought legal advice and quietly fought with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for at least six months about what should be done. The ACLU, which signed the letter to the DOJ, actually accused Hedman of attempting to keep the memo in-house and downplaying its significance.
The government of Flint Michigan decided to save money in April 2014 by switching Flint’s water supply from Lake Huron to a local river. The state of Michigan, however, applied the wrong standards for governing drinking water, resulting in a system that did not properly control corrosion.
The corrosive nature of Flint’s drinking water was causing lead from pipes and pathogens to get into the town’s water supply, according to a study by Virginia Tech. Flint is currently dealing with an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, a dangerous infection that usually spreads through a tainted water source.
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