One of the weaknesses in American infrastructure is water and nowhere is that more evident than Flint, Michigan

Flint, Michigan was once an example of the American dream. The birthplace of General Motors, the city and population enjoyed good living for years from the plentiful jobs in the area from both auto manufacturing and associated industries. Businesses thrived from a local population with money to spend, and the population boomed. Nearby Detroit, was practically a Paris of the Midwest. However, both cities found themselves struggling as the auto jobs finally left, and the Big Three auto manufacturers moved their manufacturing to other states or overseas. Flint has half the people it does not. Many of the properties are overgrown with weeds. People who are too poor to leave are left behind. The future of Flint was uncertain, especially as the state came in to manage the city’s debts. Then, the water crisis hit.

The Flint River

In 2014, Flint, Michigan switched from water purchased from Detroit, which was taken from Lake Huron and instead switched to water pumped from the Flint River. Unfortunately for the residents of Flint, Michigan, the water in the Flint River was contaminated itself and it was more acidic causing the pipes under the town to leech lead into the water which was consumed by the citizens of the town. Chemicals required to prevent this from happening in old lead pipes were not added to the new water and lead was soon entering the water and bloodstreams of the residents.

The Place of Bad Water

The children were most affected as their small bodies were unable to handle the lead. Lead stays in the human body forever and there is no way to get it out. Lead in children can be deadly and cause life-long problems including a drop in IQ and health problems around the liver and kidneys. Babies may not develop properly. Adults can lose their hair and suffer from brain fog and other problems. However, the burden of this decision was not shared equally.

In a particularly garish corporate scheme, General Motors complained to state regulators that the new water arrangement was corroding auto parts at their engine plant. They were switched back to the quality water from Lake Huron. The local state office, installed water coolers so the employees wouldn’t have to drink the water from the Flint River. Soon, residents crowded into townhalls with jugs and bottles full of the disgusting brown, contaminated water. Their question was simple, “Why is our water so bad?”

The people of Flint were then forced to being drinking, shaving, brushing their teeth and showering with bottled water. This crisis has been a slow one and some places are still using bottled water despite the fact that the state has ended bottled water distribution.

Outrage

The crisis eventually caused public outrage. Celebrities like Cher and Jaden Smith sent pallets of bottled water to the area as people were not using the water. Although the city switched back to Detroit water, the damage was done to those old lead pipes. They all had to come out.

To ensure a safe water supply, the whole of the city must be dug up and new pipes installed. The cost-saving switch will end up costing $500 million to fix. The bad pipes are coming out and being replaced; however, the loss of trust of the local citizens in their government is shattered, possibly forever.

Not Just Flint

However, the problem isn’t just in Flint. America has lead pipes all over the country. Before steel and other metals were made rust-proof, lead was a useful, malleable material for lead pipes that had been used since Roman times. As indoor plumbing became common, lead pipes were used to transport the water to residents. There is lead in the water throughout the country.

However, we now know the dangers of lead pipes. The reality is that lead pipes can go bad at any moment and start poisoning the end user. Flint may be the focal point, but this is an American problem. Our water system needs to be updated with modern materials that don’t pose this sort of danger. This is another area where America’s infrastructure is crumbling under our very feet.

Stay with us during Infrastructure Week as we continue to explore America’s crumbling infrastructure!