The Poisoning of Flint, Michigan: A Tragedy

Updated: May 6, 2020
Written by: Christina Freeman


One of the most fundamental human rights, a resource that our bodies cannot survive longer than four days without consuming.

We wash our hands in it. Shower in it. Soak our bodies in it.

We drink it. Cook with it. Wash our dishes with it.

If you are fortunate enough, you might have never given your access to clean water a second thought.

Imagine that one day you turn on the kitchen sink, or run your bathwater. That surge of clear, pure water you are accustomed to is now murky, with unidentifiable particles floating in it. It has an awful scent to it and drinking it leaves behind a metallic aftertaste.

What would be your response? How long would you tolerate living without someone replenishing your flow of clean water? Let’s say you contact your water company to complain about the filth pouring out of your faucets, only to receive an evasive response.

Days pass. Your anxiety levels are sky-high. You resort to purchasing gallons of water for daily use and instruct your children to stop taking baths, rinsing their toothbrushes under the faucet, or washing their hands.

Weeks pass. Water has become your every waking thought. You are driven to begging your neighbor for access to their shower, only to learn that your neighbor and your entire community also lacks clean water.

Months pass. You know by now that fecal coliform bacteria populates the water supply. The most you have been advised to do is boil your water or use bottled water. You have dealt with environmental officials gaslighting you, 1 attempting to convince the public that they are overreacting and have nothing to worry about.

A year passes- it is clear, now, that you are slowly but surely being poisoned. Your hair is falling out in clumps. You have formed rashes on your skin consistent with lead poisoning and symptoms of a disease that develops from exposure to legionella bacteria. Dangerous percentages of lead have been detected in the water.

You have picketed at town hall, you have written your legislatures, you have made an effort to contact every authority you can think of. Your hope for change blossoms when a group of local activists and clerical heads launch a lawsuit against the city for “recklessly endangering” its residents by not providing a safe water source. Three months later the case is rejected, with your city’s attorney dismissively calling the complaint “baseless and devoid of legal merit.” Meanwhile, your city remains in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act, and no one has any concrete solutions to offer you.

You are at a loss of what to do at this point— you are living paycheck to paycheck and can hardly afford rent, much less relocate your entire family to another area.

Six years pass. Six years.

This is how long residents of Flint, Michigan have been living with a poisoned water supply. The Flint water crisis demonstrates a frightening lack of concern for human life by many top executives and government officials in the United States. And what is ultimately the root of this crisis?

Greed and flippancy towards a poverty-stricken population that is 53.4% black. Flint, Michigan has a history of racism that scales back to the civil rights era. Flint was the North’s most segregated city, with only two neighborhoods designated for black residents.

As the U.S. passed laws against segregation and housing discrimination, middle- and upper-class whites began to flee the area (a phenomenon known as “white flight”), repulsed b