Why getting Flint residents water filters is tough task

Law enforcement and volunteers have been able to deliver water filters to roughly 500 homes per day. But with 300,000 Flint residents drawing water from potentially contaminated pipes, the governor of Michigan has called for federal assistance.

Dale G. Young/The Detroit News/AP
Samuel Smith is happy to receive a case of bottled water and a new water filter at his home on Mallery St. in Flint, Mich., as volunteers accompanied by Michigan State Police and Genesee County Sheriff's Deputies bring residents water filters and bottled water on Tuesday. Volunteers and police carrying bottled water, filters and lead test kits knocked on doors in Flint on Tuesday, seeking to help residents in the Michigan city that's confronting a water crisis.

Residents of Flint, Mich., in need of drinking water will be receiving aid from the National Guard in response to a months-long water crisis in the city.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder activated the Michigan National Guard Tuesday, with more than 30 members of the reserve force expected to arrive in the Genesee County seat by Friday. The Guardsmen will join the American Red Cross in a relief effort involving state authorities and volunteers to distribute bottled water, water filters, lead testing kits, and more to Flint residents.

Governor Snyder also requested the aid of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate a recovery plan for the city, and a FEMA spokesman confirmed the appointment of a disaster recovery coordinator to aid the state.

Flint’s water crisis began in 2014 when the city was cut out of Detroit’s water system, which is sourced by a treated supply from Lake Huron, and was forced to use the Flint River as a temporary source. The water was later discovered to be corrosive with the river leaching lead from old pipes into residents’ homes. After ongoing complaints from residents and a September, 2015, Virginia Polytechnic Institute research study confirming Flint’s water to be several times more corrosive than Detroit’s, the city’s water supply was switched back to Detroit last October with officials later declaring a city- and countywide public health state of emergency.

Though the water sourced from Detroit is considerably cleaner, public health officials are still concerned that the year of drawing water from the Flint River may have left residual lead in the pipes. 

Volunteers and law enforcement are going door to door to hand out clean water and supplies, with Capt. Casey Tafoya of Genesee County Sheriff Department stating they hope to reach 500 to 600 of the city’s estimated 30,000 households each day.

"We plan to go every day this week, and we'll continue until everyone has safe drinking water," state police Lt. Dave Kaiser told the Associated Press.

With relief efforts ongoing, city officials are looking ahead for a resolution to the problem. Flint’s mayor said Thursday that fixing and decontaminating pipes and city infrastructure could cost anywhere from millions of dollars to $1.5 billion.

According to Snyder, more than 12,000 filters have been distributed since October, along with 700 water tests and more than 2,000 blood tests – more than 40 of which showed elevated levels of lead. The Virginia Tech study found more than 40 percent of its samples returned with elevated lead levels.

“I have repeatedly called for the Governor to deploy the Michigan National Guard to assist in the Flint water crisis and I am glad to see he has finally acted on this matter. What is going on in Flint is a serious ongoing public health emergency,” said US Rep. Dan Kildee (D) in a statement Tuesday:

Flint needs more action and less talk from Governor Snyder. It is important to remember that this crisis was created by a state-appointed emergency financial manager, and it is the state’s ultimate responsibility to act and make it right. Flint residents are the victims in this crisis and they deserve a more urgent response equal to the gravity of this crisis.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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