Flint Water Crisis Fast Facts

Flint, located 70 miles north of Detroit, is a city of 98,310, where 41.6% of residents live below the poverty line and the median household income is $24,679, according to the US Census Bureau. The median household income for the rest of Michigan is $49,087. The city is 56.6% African-American.

The Flint River had been the city’s primary water source decades earlier, but Flint switched to Lake Huron in 1967, purchasing its supply through the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.

Contaminated Water Supply:
Historically, the water in the Flint River downstream of Flint has been of poor quality, and was severely degraded during the 1970s, due to “the presence of fecal coliform bacteria, low dissolved oxygen, plant nutrients, oils, and toxic substances.” In 2001, the state ordered the monitoring and cleanup of 134 polluted sites within the Flint River watershed, including industrial complexes, landfills and farms laden with pesticides and fertilizer.
According to a class-action lawsuit, the state Department of Environmental Quality was not treating the Flint River water with an anti-corrosive agent, in violation of federal law. The river water was found to be 19 times more corrosive than water from Detroit, which was from Lake Huron, according to a study by Virginia Tech.
Health effects of lead exposure in children include impaired cognition, behavioral disorders, hearing problems and delayed puberty. In pregnant women, lead is associated with reduced fetal growth. In everyone, lead consumption can affect the heart, kidneys and nerves. Although there are medications that may reduce the amount of lead in the blood, treatments for the adverse health effects of lead have yet to be developed.
2007 –
Flint prepares to tap into the Flint River as a backup water source, despite residents’ concerns about sewage spills and industrial waste. Flint is the only city in Genesee County poised to use the Flint River as an emergency water source, according to the county’s drain commissioner.
March 22, 2012 – Genesee County announces a new pipeline is being designed to deliver water from Lake Huron to Flint. The plan is to reduce costs by switching the city’s water supplier from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) to the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA).
April 16, 2013 – On the city council’s recommendation Andy Dillon, state treasurer, authorizes Flint to make the switch. One day later, the DWSD terminates its water service contract with Flint, effective April of 2014. There are further discussions, however, between Flint’s leaders and the DWSD about options that would allow the city to purchase Detroit water after the contract ended. Flint resumes buying Detroit water in October of 2015.
September 5, 2014 – Flint issues another boil water advisory after a positive test for total coliform bacteria. The presence of this type of bacteria is a warning sign that E. coli or other disease-causing organisms may be contaminating the water. City officials tell residents they will flush the pipes and add more chlorine to the water. After four days, residents are told they can safely resume drinking water from the tap.
October 1, 2014 – The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) issues a governor’s briefing paper outlining possible causes for the contamination issues. Among the problems are leaking valves and aging cast iron pipes susceptible to a buildup of bacteria. The MDEQ concludes flushing the system and increasing chlorine in the water will limit the number of boil water advisories in the future.
October 2014 – The General Motors plant in Flint stops using the city’s water due to concerns about high levels of chlorine corroding engine parts. The company strikes a deal with a neighboring township to purchase water from Lake Huron in lieu of using water from the Flint River. The switch is anticipated to cost the city $400,000.
January 21, 2015 – Residents tote jugs of discolored water to a community forum. The Detroit Free Press reports children are developing rashes and suffering from mysterious illnesses.
February 2015 – The MDEQ notes some “hiccups” in the transition, including a buildup of TTHM, a cancer-causing byproduct of chlorine and organic matter. In a background paper submitted to Governor Rick Snyder, the MDEQ states that elevated TTHM levels are not an immediate health emergency because the risk of disease increases only after years of consumption. Snyder announces a $2 million dollar grant to fix problems in the pipes and sewers.
March 23, 2015 – Flint City Council members vote 7-1 to stop using river water and to reconnect with Detroit. However, state-appointed emergency manager, Jerry Ambrose overrules the vote calling it “incomprehensible” because costs would skyrocket and “water from Detroit is no safer than water from Flint.”
June 24, 2015 – An EPA manager issues a memo, “High Lead Levels in Flint,” warning the city is not providing corrosion control treatment to mitigate the presence of lead in drinking water. According to the memo, scientists at Virginia Tech tested tap water from the Walters’ home and found the lead level was as high as 13,200 ppb. Water contaminated with 5,000 ppb of lead is classified by the EPA as hazardous waste. Three other homes also have high lead levels in the water, according to the memo. Walters sends the memo about lead in her tap water to an investigative reporter from the ACLU, Curt Guyette.
July 13, 2015 – After the EPA memo is leaked by the ACLU, a spokesman for the MDEQ tells Michigan Public Radio, “Anyone who is concerned about lead in the drinking water in Flint can relax.” He explains initial testing on 170 homes indicates that the problem is not widespread.
July 22, 2015 – Governor Snyder’s chief of staff, Dennis Muchmore, emails the Department of Community Health in response to reports by the ACLU and on public radio. “I’m frustrated by the water issue in Flint. I really don’t think people are getting the benefit of the doubt. Now they are concerned and rightfully so about the lead level studies they are receiving from DEQ [MDEQ] samples. Can you take a moment out of your impossible schedule to personally take a look at this?”

August 23, 2015 – Virginia Tech Professor Marc Edwards notifies the MDEQ his team will be conducting a water quality study.

September 9, 2015 – The EPA announces it will assist Flint in developing a corrosion control treatment for the water. The next day, MDEQ spokesman, Brad Wurfel tells the Flint Journal the city needs to upgrade its infrastructure, but he also expresses skepticism about the Virginia Tech study.
September 11, 2015 – After concluding that Flint water is 19 times more corrosive than Detroit water, Virginia Tech recommends the state declare that the water is not safe for drinking or cooking. The river water is corroding old pipes and lead is leaching into the water, according to the study.
October 2, 2015 – The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) reviews the data from the Hurley Medical Center and verifies the findings. The state begins testing drinking water in schools and distributing free water filters.
January 13, 2016 – Governor Snyder announces an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease occurred in the Flint area between June 2014 and November 2015, with 87 cases and 10 deaths. It is unclear, however, whether the spike is linked to the water switch.
January 14, 2016 – Governor Snyder writes President Barack Obama to request the declaration of an expedited major disaster in Flint, estimating it will cost $55 million to install lead-free pipes throughout the city.
February 1, 2016 – A spokeswoman for the US Attorney’s Office in Detroit tells the Detroit Free Press that the FBI, the US Postal Inspection Service, the inspector general of the EPA and the EPA’s criminal investigation division are assisting in the probe of the Flint water crisis.
February 3, 2016 – The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform holds a hearing on the Flint water crisis. Governor Snyder is not called to appear.

March 31, 2016 – Lawyers, including some with the NAACP, file a class action lawsuit against Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, PC, the state of Michigan, Governor Snyder and others. Plaintiffs seek damages for those affected by the water crisis.

April 20, 2016 – Criminal charges are filed against government employees Mike Glasgow, Stephen Busch and Mike Prysby. Busch, a district water supervisor for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and Prysby, a district water engineer, each face six charges. Glasgow, a former laboratory and water quality supervisor who now serves as the city’s utilities administrator, is charged with tampering with evidence, a felony, and willful neglect of duty, a misdemeanor. All are on administrative leave.

April 25, 2016 – Flint activists announce the formation of a new initiative, the Community Development Organization. Created in response to the water crisis, the non-profit will assist and share information with those effected by the Flint River water switch.

May 4, 2016 – President Barack Obama visits Flint to hear first-hand how residents have endured the city’s water crisis and to highlight federal assistance to state and local agencies.

June 22, 2016 – The Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette files civil lawsuits against two companies for their alleged role in the Flint water crisis. Veolia North America is charged with negligence, fraud, and public nuisance. Lockwood, Andrews & Newman (LAN) is charged with negligence and public nuisance.
LAN responds to the lawsuit by stating it was “surprised and disappointed that the state would change direction and wrongfully accuse LAN of acting improperly, and will vigorously defend itself against these unfounded claims.” LAN also says the accusations ignored the assessments of investigators that the City of Flint and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality made the key decisions about water treatment. “LAN was not hired to operate the plant and had no responsibility for water quality,” the statement says, adding that the company “regularly advised that corrosion control should be added and that the system needed to be fully tested before going online.”

Veolia also responds with “disappointment in Attorney General Schuette’s inaccurate and unwarranted allegations.” The company says, “the Attorney General has not talked to Veolia about its involvement in Flint, interviewed the company’s technical experts or asked any questions about our one-time, one-month contract with Flint.” The company says its “engagement with the city was wholly unrelated to the current lead issues.”

July 29, 2016 – Six current and former state workers are charged as the criminal investigation continues. One of the employees, Liane Shekter-Smith, is the former chief of the Michigan Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance. She faces charges of misconduct in office and willful neglect of duty for allegedly misleading the public and concealing evidence of rising lead levels in water.
November 2016 – Dennis Walters, the husband of Flint advocate Lee-Anne Walters, files a complaint claiming that he is being mistreated at work by superiors and colleagues who resent his wife’s activism. Walters, a Navy veteran who works at a police precinct at the Naval Station Norfolk, says that he has been scheduled to work long hours with no breaks and denied opportunities to expand his skill set via training. The family relocated to Virginia because of the water problems in Flint.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story imprecisely characterized the process of the termination of the contract between the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) and the City of Flint in April 2013. It has now been amended to reflect that the DWSD offered to continue to allow Flint to purchase Detroit water even after the contract ended, pending re-negotiations.

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