Fighting for Safe Water in Flint

Fighting for Safe Water in Flint


(slow music) [Melissa Mays] The first time we heard that they were thinking of switching to the Flint River, we laughed. We thought it was a joke. Because there’s a ton of cars in there, shopping carts, and we knew that industry had dumped in the river for 100 years and didn’t clean it up. – [Crowd] Three, two, one. When they actually pushed the button, it was on TV, and we were shocked that
we were actually going to be forced to drink
from the Flint River. Here’s to Flint.
Here’s to Flint. – [Crowd] Here, here! About a month later, people were complaining about orange and brown water. You would watch the news,
and they would say, Well, river water is a little
bit harder to treat than lake water, and we’ve got it under control. It’s just a bump in the road. [Pastor Overton] When I really recognized that Flint has switched is one early morning that I heard on 10 or 12 News, that General Motors had begun to switch from the Flint River water back on to the Detroit water because it was corroding their products. Flint city officials insist Flint River water is good enough to drink, but it’s been causing problems with issues at General Motors. And I just knew, common sense told me
that if it’s messing up their automotive parts, it has to be a problem for consumption. So that’s when I got up and got mobilized and got engaged to find out what was going on with this water. This church was where we spearheaded a group called the
Coalition for Clean Water, bringing together other community groups that were out working to
fight this water crisis. [Dimple Chaudhary] NRDC
started to understand the magnitude of the crisis in Flint back in the summer of 2015. The ACLU of Michigan started to suspect that
there may be potential litigation related to the environmental issues, the safety of the drinking water. They reached out to NRDC because they knew that we have expertise and a deep knowledge of
safe drinking water laws and how to bring these types of environmental citizens’ suits. [Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha]
Pediatricians know lead. We know what lead can do. Every agency tells us, from the CDC to the American Academy of
Pediatrics, that there’s no safe level of lead. When I heard of the possibility that there was lead in the water, it was a call to action. We decided to look at the lead
levels just in our clinics. So the Hurley Children’s Clinic
sees the most Flint kids, and we compared lead levels
before the water switch to lead levels after the
water switch, and we did see this increase in the
percentage of children with elevated lead levels. And we were absolutely heartbroken. We had to share this information as soon as possible. So we decided to hold a press conference. This research is concerning. These results are concerning. To alert our families to
stop using this water, to use bottled water, to use filters and to hopefully get
the water source changed back to Detroit. Right after we shared this information, my science was dismissed, the research was dismissed, the state came out publicly stating that I was wrong, that I was causing near hysteria. So, I shouldn’t have been surprised, because for 18 months, the heroic people of Flint had been dismissed- the moms, the activists, the
pastors, the journalists, the scientists. [Chaudhary] After we
realized that there was data that could confirm that there were widespread elevated lead levels in Flint- so a real serious concern about toxic lead in people’s water- we knew that the ultimate fix for a lead problem is
to get the lead pipes out of the ground. So that was the central and primary goal of the case. [Sarah Tallman] In our lawsuit, we brought claims
against the city of Flint and state officials claiming that they violated the Safe Drinking Water Act in several ways. The first major violation was called “a failure
to optimize corrosion control treatment,” which means the city and state failed to treat the
drinking water appropriately to make sure that they were minimizing the amount of lead that was leaching from the pipes into drinking water. And the second violation was that they failed to monitor tap water
for lead appropriately. Because they failed to do
the right kinds of testing, they failed to uncover a problem for months and months, which
exacerbated the crisis. [Anjali Waikar] After
we filed our lawsuit, we started hearing a lot of
concerns from the community about people not being able to access basic bottled water and filters that the city and state were providing. [Chaudhary] The state had
set up some distribution points around the city,
but it was very clear to us that that was inadequate. [Tallman] And the state really
expected individual residents of Flint to have to go
out and find water day in and day out every day
for months and months. And that was frustrating and appalling and shocking, really. [Jared Knicley] Flint is a very poor city; one in five households doesn’t have access to a vehicle, and requiring residents to go carry multiple
cases of water home a day- it’s just extremely burdensome on anyone. Particularly if you have any sort of disability or if you don’t have a car. The same was true for filters. Every household in Flint was provided with a filter early on
in the process, but they weren’t taught how to install filters, they weren’t taught how
to maintain filters. [Chaudhary] What do you do when in a given moment, people don’t
have access to safe water? How can we, as attorneys, as advocates, try to help them? And so we started to think about how can we put in place kind of a temporary emergency solution? Something that could ensure that people had ready access to safe drinking water day to day until these larger issues, until they could be addressed. [Tallman] The case that
we were trying to make was about how the lack of water was affecting people’s everyday lives. And so we had to talk to
people and get to know them and develop relationships with them so that they would be willing to share their story in a federal court, which is a scary thing and
not an easy thing to do. [Waikar] Ten or twelve
of us would come out into Flint over the course
of several weekends. We went out in teams of two, literally walking down streets and knocking on doors, and identifying those
people who are most in need. [Tallman] It was those stories and those experiences that were ultimately persuasive to the court. [Mays] So we wake up in the morning, and we go to brush our teeth; you have to use bottled water for that. I have three teenage boys who have to use bottled water to wash their face or they break out. Then you take your fast showers, and you move through your day making sure the kids have bottles of water to pack to take to school with them, making sure that we have
enough bottled water for whatever I plan to cook that night. Over Thanksgiving, it
took 58 bottles of water just to make Thanksgiving dinner. We give bottled water to the dogs, the cat because otherwise, we don’t
know what would happen. Then at the end of the day, you better make sure you’ve gotten to the point-of-distribution site if you’re going to run out of water. The points-of-distribution centers are open noon to six,
Monday through Saturday. My husband and I both work, so a lot of times it’s one of us going on our lunch hour, or in between my husband’s two jobs to go pick up water really quickly. Because by the time we get done with work, they’re closed. So you can go pick up
10, sometimes 14, cases depending on what they’ll give you; each site is a little bit different. Then you have to fill up the giant recycling bags and take them out, and you fill up a bag that holds 120 bottles awfully quickly in a family of five. What I do is at night, I make sure that I’ve refreshed the bottles of water in
the bathroom for the boys. The only thing we do now in our home now is we flush our toilets and we shower. [Pastor Overton] The churches have been a big part of this entire recovery
process in this crisis. This community worked together to get the people the water, to get the people the filters. Go into homes; I can’t even
count the number of homes that I went into to install filters. We were in crisis mode. It was a real tough time. You had people that had
become very depressed because they felt they had failed their children. So you had parents who felt that they had neglected their children,
no fault of their own, just a situation they
had been placed into. And now we’re trying to heal and recover. Trust is a big issue in this community. Most folks won’t even
say they’re from Flint. They’ll say they’re from somewhere else, because they don’t want the stigmatism that their children have been poisoned. – [Knicley] The first
big moment in the case was when the judge denied the state and the city’s motions to dismiss in the summer of 2016. – [Chaudhary] The judge issued a ruling that was incredibly comprehensive and ruled for us on every single issue and said, No, there’s enough here for this case to continue. This community has raised
some really serious questions about the safety of their water that deserve to be heard. And I think that was that moment when we felt like, OK, we have something here. [Knicley] And that set the
stage for us moving forward, taking bottled water delivery and filter installation and maintenance. [Chaudhary] This order came
requiring the city and state to make sure that people had safe water in the interim while the case was pending. The city and the state sought
to overturn that order. By the end of December, it was clear that they were not going to be successful. Both our judge and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals had said, No, there’s a real concern for public safety and for public health, and there needs to be more done. At that point, the governor of Michigan requested that the parties be convened for a mediation, and
the judge ordered that, and then we all sat
down at a table to talk. – [Knicley] Once we had a
settlement that all the parties were agreed upon, we
submitted it to the court for its consideration and approval. [Chaudhary] We went to
the courthouse in Detroit. Our clients were there, lots of members from the community were there. I stood up in front of the judge and said, Here’s what we’ve been working on. Here’s what we’re asking you to approve, and the judge accepted the settlement and entered it and it
was an incredible moment. Today is a great win for the city of Flint and an unprecedented
outcome in a case like this. Our clients were thrilled. They worked so hard for this result. They’re such an inspiring community. We were just so happy and honored that we could help them with this. [Mays] Flint proved that
even while poisoned, even while worried about surviving, that we’re not just victims, we are fighters. [Tallman] The settlement agreement means that there’s an enforceable
commitment on the part of the city and state to replace the lead and galvanized steel pipes in the city within three years. And that the state will commit up to $97 million to make that happen. In addition, the state is
committing to make sure that every resident in
Flint has a properly installed filter in the
meantime so that they’ll have safe water to drink while all this pipe removal is happening. The settlement also provides that the city and state
will conduct robust tap water monitoring to
make sure that lead levels in the city continue to go down over time. Everybody should be walking out of here with a water-testing kit. [Mays] We’re sitting in the courtroom and I’m sitting next to Pastor Overton and I was like, “Did we just win?” And he was like, “I think so.” And we just sat there. Both of us just sat
there like, Is this real? Did we actually just get the state to agree to replace pipes? And then we just sat there in shock and then the attorneys
turned around and everybody started hugging each other
and it was just surreal. That all this work, the year and a half we’d been working on this lawsuit, that it had come to a settlement that was actually helpful for Flint residents. [Pastor Overton] And that was
the no. 1 thing that we wanted to do was to get those
service lines removed. And we accomplished that. We’re now working to get all the lead service lines removed
from the city of Flint. [Chaudhary] There’s
still a lot to be done. We have this great agreement, but it has to be honored and enforced, and so we’re going to be watching every step of the way to make sure that the city and
state comply with their obligations, and if they don’t, we’ll be back in court. [Rhea Suh] I hope that the
story that comes out of Flint is a story about citizens taking matters into their own hands, utilizing partnerships with organizations like NRDC to seek the justice and the outcome that they deserve. It was the activity of individual people, normal people standing up and advocating for their rights, for their families, for their communities. [Waikar] Flint is an example of how every community can hold government officials accountable, especially when they are
simply not doing their job or disregarding the public
health and disregarding, frankly, their moral
and ethical obligations to ensure the safety
of an entire community. [Knicley] For communities that
find themselves in a situation similar to Flint, I think this case provides a ray of hope. It shows that courts are a viable option for those communities
to enforce their rights to safe drinking water even when it seems like
everyone else is against them. [Mays] The state of Michigan didn’t expect what happened, which is for all of us to stand up, become educated and become
organized, and fight back. (slow music)

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4 thoughts on “Fighting for Safe Water in Flint”

  • I just saw your youtube ad trashing Trump. That was the worst ad I have ever seen. It is moronic to attribute global warming to one man, even if he is the president. You are in the business of selling anthropogenic global warming to the public, and YOU want to be paid for it. You are using emotion and anecdotes rather than peer reviewed science. If your position is "right," you are doing a terrible job of convincing people. Shame on you.

  • Just a little over 3,000 views for this video!!!!! Dear lord, where are the priorities of my fellow Americans? This is such an important and horrible event that occurred in the "GREAT USA" and it saddens me that only 3,032 people have watched this. If it happened here . . . it can happen anywhere. We don't need a $5 Billion wall on the border. We need to fix Flint, fix infrastructure and create jobs at the same time. We need to elect new government representatives!

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