‘Flint is still broken’ residents say ahead of federal court hearing

Advocates demand the city finish replacing pipes three years after missed deadline

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click to enlarge Bishop Bernadel Jefferson (far right) speaks at a press conference outside the Theodore Levin U.S. Courthouse Wednesday afternoon.
Bishop Bernadel Jefferson (far right) speaks at a press conference outside the Theodore Levin U.S. Courthouse Wednesday afternoon.

The chemical smell from the water in Melissa May’s Flint home is sometimes so strong she says it burns her eyes and causes nosebleeds.

“There’s no real reason to trust the folks that are telling us to drink [the water],” she told reporters as she stood outside Detroit’s Theodore Levin U.S. Courthouse Wednesday afternoon. “They’re still ignoring us like they have since 2014. People are having rashes, bacterial infections, discolored water… Until all the infrastructure is replaced and people stop lying to us and trying to sweep it under the carpet and do a PR move instead of doing the right thing, we cannot trust the water.”

May is a member of the advocacy group Flint Rising and a plaintiff in a federal case against the City of Flint demanding it finishes replacing the city’s pipes. The city was ordered to replace the pipes by January 2020 in a 2017 settlement agreement, but three years later residents are still fighting.

Members of Flint Rising, Michigan United, and other groups held a press conference outside of the federal courthouse ahead of a hearing asking a judge to force Flint officials to set a new deadline to complete the work.

“​​For the fifth time, we’ve had to hold the city in violation for not following through with the pipe replacement and restoration program that we settled in 2017,” Mays said. “The current administration has put a halt to it and fought us every step of the way. Today is day number 3,218 since the water was switched in Flint by the city and state of Michigan, and since then the city, state of Michigan, and federal governments have failed us.”

Just last week the entire city of Flint was under a boil water advisory following a main break. Flint Rising director Nayyirah Shariff lambasted the city for failing to properly notify residents. She only was alerted to the boil water advisory after someone sent her a screenshot of an announcement from the City of Flint’s Facebook page.

“Our public health should not be predicated on viral marketing,” she said. “I actually had to log on to Facebook, type in ‘City of Flint’ because it doesn’t pop up on my Facebook feed, and scroll to look. That shouldn’t be the way that people find out information. … Politicians love to lift Flint up and say how this has been a success. No, this is a travesty.”

click to enlarge Flint Rising advocate Melissa May. - Randiah Camille Green
Randiah Camille Green
Flint Rising advocate Melissa May.

The advisory has since been lifted, but Shariff and Mays still don’t trust the water.

“Common sense says you can put the most perfect spring water through our pipes that are corroded and falling apart and rupturing into the streets, and it’s going to be contaminated,” Mays said. “So we know that there’s no way to trust the water until all of the infrastructure up into our taps are replaced as they should be. You broke it, you fix it. … It has not stopped. The Flint water crisis is not over. Flint is not fixed.”

According to Flint Rising, an estimated 1,600 lines still needed to be replaced as of September of 2022, and many residents were left with their yards in disrepair from work that was started and never finished.

“We have thousands of homes that still need to be excavated and have their service line replaced, but then even more homes that have not had their yard sidewalks and driveways restored,” Mays said. “There are people with barrels instead of a sidewalk. There are people that can’t let their kids play out in the front yard because of sinkholes. My yard [and] my neighbor’s yard across the street are missing giant chunks as we’re waiting on the restoration process and we can’t get an answer.”

The advocacy groups are also asking a federal judge to restore Flint’s bottled water disbursement program that was discontinued earlier this year.

“The Flint water crisis is not over. Flint is not fixed.”

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The state has provided residents with water filters and advises that the filtered tap water is safe to drink. Pastor Monica Villarreal noted, however, that the filters can be difficult for disabled residents to use and in some cases, they don’t even fit properly.

“How are residents who are blind who cannot see supposed to use a faucet filter that has an indicator light on it to show whether it’s working properly?” she said. “What about our community that has severe arthritis? What about people with certain medical conditions or still the households where the filter doesn't even fit the faucet? There are so many situations in Flint where families might not be able to install, maintain, and use a faucet filter, and this poses a significant public health risk.”

She added, “according to the latest round of testing, Flint’s water system is hovering between nine and 10 parts per billion of lead in the water. And while this meets regulatory standards, it does not meet the public health standard which is zero lead in water. For a community that was poisoned by lead, anything that can be done to mitigate the cumulative impacts of lead exposure should be. It is sad that we are here today at this courthouse.”

Flint’s water became contaminated when the city’s emergency manager switched the city’s water supply from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to the Flint River without properly treating the water, resulting in corrosion of the city’s water pipes.

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About The Author

Randiah Camille Green

After living in Japan and traveling across Asia, Randiah Camille Green realized Detroit will always be home. And when she says Detroit, she's talking about the hood, not the suburbs. She has bylines in Planet Detroit News , Bridge Detroit , BLAC magazine, and Model D . Her favorite pastimes are meditating...
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