Environmental Agencies in Michigan
Theenvironmental issues of Michigan fall under the United StatesEnvironmental Protection Agency. According to the EnvironmentalProtection Agency, Michigan region falls under the regional officelevel 5 (EPA 2). This regional office covers numerous cities aroundthe state of Michigan.
Theprimary role of EPA is to protect Americans from significantenvironmental health risks in their places of work or in theneighborhoods. The agency reduces risks to the environment and thepopulation by providing scientific information to the relevantstakeholders, enforcing new policies regarding environmental safety,working with other nations to maintain environmental safety, andconducting research on possible ways to come up with sustainablemeans of production.
Thecontext for environmental health, according to the EPA is theprotection of natural resources, the health of the people,controlling industrial processes, ensuring safe manufacturingpractices, and sustainable agricultural processes. Wheneverauthorities want to formulate policies, they look at all the factorsthat comprise the environmental health. In order to achieve its goalsand objectives, the EPA works with a myriad of other entities. Theyinclude individuals, businesses, other government agencies, localauthorities, non-governmental environmental organizations, andcommunities.
Thestate government of Michigan has a regulatory agency responsible forenvironmental health. The department of environmental quality isresponsible for a clean and safe environment in Michigan(Michigan.gov 4). The mandate of this agency revolves around settingregulatory standards for different bodies operating within Michigan.It has laboratories for testing the water quality of the water supplysystem in Michigan. The agency also sets regulations regarding theemissions that industries can release into the air. Each industry hasa threshold for carbon emission.
Despitethe emissions, the agency has control over the safe use of land inMichigan it sets regulations in relation to land remediation,mining, land use, mineral wells and prevention of soil erosion. Theagency has control over the sewerage system in Michigan. It has setstandards upon which transporters of waste in Michigan should complywith, and created a protocol for handling hazardous waste. The agencyhas the power to enforce the set standards for environmental health.
Theenvironmental conservation agencies in Michigan work withnon-governmental organizations that deal with matters environmentalhealth. One such organization is the blue-green alliance (2). Theprimary goal of this organization is to create green economies in thesociety. The organization seeks to come up with ways that will ensurethe use of green energy for sustainable development in the USA.Bluegreenalliance.org has started a project in Michigan known as the‘Flint Clean Economy Project’.
Inaddition, the organization takes into account the fact that theenvironmental issues in Flint Michigan are due to spiraling cases ofpoverty. Over 36% of Flint’s population lives below the povertyline- higher than that of some third world countries (BluegreenAlliance 1). The high poverty levels have forced the residents ofFlint to rely on lead-contaminated water even after several warningsby the regulatory agencies. It is in this regard that theorganization introduced the green economy project in order to createmore jobs in Flint. The organization is working towards implementingtechnology for a green economy in Flint among other innovativeinitiatives.
The Current Environmental problem in Flint, Michigan
of the issue
Just recently, reports hit the media houses that the citizens offlint have been drinking contaminated water all along. The issue ofcontamination with lead stems back to when the water supply of Flintdecided to derive its water from Flint River instead of outsourcingfrom Lake Huron and Detroit River, which were under the custody ofDetroit Water and Sewerage Department (Stockton 5). The issue of Leadcontamination in drinking water for the residents of Flint is aculmination of events that dates back to early 20thCentury.
In the early 9100’s, lead was the major component in themanufacture of water pipes. Companies preferred lead to PVC becauseit was cheap and easily available at that moment. It therefore wasnot a coincidence when the Flint water supply system primarilycomprised of lead pipes when it was built between 1909 and 1920.However, the use of lead in a water supply system comes with its ownterms and conditions. For starters, when the pH of water goes above7.1, the water is bound to corrode off the lead from the water pipesand end up in the households. The Detroit water and Seweragedepartment overcame this hurdle by treating river water in corrosioninhibitors before supplying it to the households. Corrosioninhibitors function by maintaining the pH of water at around 7.1.
Incentivesleading to the Issue
A dispute between Flint City and the Detroit Sewerage and WaterDepartment, and the need to save money forced the city to build itsown water treatment plant. Before then, the municipal council ofFlint had approached the Karegnondi Water Authority to supply it withwater following the dispute with Detroit. KWA was in its final stagesof signing a deal to supply Flint with raw water when it realizedthat such a move would create water wars with Detroit. KWA had nochoice but to terminate the deal. Immediately after, the authoritiesin Detroit announced that they were going to terminate the deal withFlint at the end of 2014. The emergency managers in charge of Flintdecided to build a water treatment plant on River Flint. At thistime, the Flint was on receivership. Initially, water from Riverflint had been used as backup whenever the water levels in Lake Huronwere Low. The new treatment plant worth $4 million began operationsin April 2014.
No sooner had the city changed its source of water than thehouseholds started complaining of contaminants in their drinking(Stockton 9). People complained that the water had taste, odor andcolor. Motor companies also complained that the water corroded theirlead pipes. The complaints elicited chemical tests on the water andit emerged that the water was contaminated with Lead, Coliforms, andTHMs. Meanwhile, the city officials maintained that the water wassafe for consumption. By this assurance, they meant that there was noneed to reconnect with Detroit. However, when the pressure becameintense, Flint had to go back to Detroit to source its water in 2015.
TheKey players in the Issue
Oneof the notable key players in this issue is the local government ofFlint City. The local administration was responsible for changing thesource of drinking water from Detroit Water and Sewerage Departmentto Flint River in order to save money. The local government spentover $4 million in building a water treatment plant at Flint River toserve the population of Flint city. The emergency managers of thecity drew up a plan, which was then approved by the mayor of FlintCity. The local government did not foresee any problems associatedwith the project because the decision was rash. The local governmentofficials did not contract experts prior to planning the water supplysystem. They just copied the system used by Detroit forgetting thatthe environmental dynamics of a river were different from those of alake.
Thestate government of Michigan is also a key player in this issue.Through the department of environmental quality, the state controlsthe standards of water consumed by the people of Flint and Michiganat large. The agency sets the allowed standards for lead in drinkingwater. It therefore comes as a surprise that the agency did notdetect any peculiar levels of lead in the water until the residentsstarted to notice that water had color, odor, and taste. It took thetests of medical practitioners to notice that Lead levels in childrenwere extremely high. In addition, when non-governmental organizationscomplained that, the water was contaminated state officialsmaintained the water was safe for human consumption.
Proposed Solutions to the Issue
Drinkingbottled water instead of tap water
According to Botelho (5), water in the households still hasunacceptable levels of Lead despite the switch from Flint River toLake Huron in 2015. The levels of lead in the blood of many childrenare still high. It is in this regard that the government came up withtemporary solutions while it forged the way forward for reallong-term solutions.
The government of Michigan has advised its residents not to drink orbathe in tap water (Botelho 6). The proposed solution aims atreducing the effects of lead caused by ingestion. Residents ought touse bottled for purposes of consumption. The government has advisedits citizens to continue using tap water for other house choresexcept for the aforementioned purposes. Before using the water forcleaning purposes, residents are advised to filter it using waterfilters. In addition, the advisory asks parents to prevent theirnewborns from coming into contact with tap water. In regard to thisproposed solution, the government has issued over 27,000 cases ofbottled water and over 210,000 disposable water filters. However, itappears the demand for clean water surpasses that, which thegovernment can provide by far. The government meets the greater costof implementing this solution.
However, lobby groups are protesting this move saying that it is notlogical for the residents of Flint to pay their water bills yet theycannot use it for the intended purposes (Stockton 6). They say thatit is unfair that they have to buy bottled water yet they have waterin their taps. The basis of their argument is that a large portion ofFlint’s population is poor hence they cannot afford bottled wateron a regular basis. In addition, relying on the government forbottled water is a big inconvenience besides the failure to meet theprevailing demand for the commodity. Residents have gone to thestreets to protest what they term as a violation of their right toclean water. In a recent news bulletin, protestors from Flint citywere carrying placards saying they will not pay for poison.
On other side of the argument, the government says that it will keepcharging the residents of Flint for the water used for otherpurposes. It claims that it is doing its level best to ensure that itfinds a long-term solution. As a form of retribution to the residentsof Flint, the government is supplying them with bottled water butthat does not mean that they do not get to pay their water bill.According to the government, the water supply system is a self-funding project that would be dead if the residents failed to paytheir water bills. Just like any other system, the Flint water supplywas hit by an unforeseen catastrophe. The government attributes itsmisfortunes to acts of nature. In addition, it justifies its demandssaying that it already foots the bill for bottled water.
Unlike water from Lake Huron, water from River Flint was toocorrosive for the pipes to go back to their former state even afterchanging the water supply source. River water has more electrolytesthan lake water. The electrolytes raise the water pH to levels thatcan corrode the water pipes. Normal treatment processes used for lakewater cannot deal with the problem. The corrosion in Flint was sohigh that the iron component of the pipe was corroded alongside Lead.Iron was responsible for the brown color in the water. Lead wasresponsible for the high levels of the metal in the physiologicalsystems of many children in Flint City. Even after the change of thewater source from Flint River to Lake Huron, the corrosion stillproceeds because the damage had already been initiated. The solutionto damaged pipes would be to replace them with other new ones thatare not contaminated.
According to the mayor of Flint City, The estimated cost of replacingthe pipes in the entire water supply system would be $1.5 billion(Botelho 7). The governor of Michigan stood by the mayor’s sidesaying that the state was willing to do anything to rectify thesituation. However, the cost of this venture is extremely expensivefor the local authorities to afford. Although it is the mostappropriate, it is not wise to overlook the cost and logistic issuesassociated with it. For instance, the residents of Flint will stayfor months without water as the local authorities replace the pipes.The exercise will also come with a lot of digging up that will createmore costs in cleaning the city.
Despite the debate, this proposed solution remains the best thus farbecause reports indicate that even if the authorities treated thewater with corrosive inhibitors, there would still be lead indrinking water.
Dealingwith the health ramifications of consuming lead
Thetherapies for dealing with lead poisoning are very few and expensiveat the same time. The most effective remedy for high levels of leadin the body is the use of chelation drugs (Reilly 3). The drugs bindwith the lead molecules to enable the kidneys to process them. Thisremedy is used for people who have Lead levels of more than 44micrograms in a deciliter of blood. Since most of the children inFlint have lead levels of between 5 and 10 micrograms per Deciliterof blood, the therapy would be ineffective on them. Besides,chelation drugs have a high risk of causing kidney diseases inchildren. For children who are not eligible for chelation drugs, thebeast remedy is to increase their intake of Calcium and Iron. Theseminerals help to clear lead from the body. The health effects of leadin the blood could be long-term or fatal hence parents should nottake any chances.
Unfortunately, the cost of dealing with the health ramifications oflead poisoning falls squarely on the residents of Flint. Unlike thedistribution of bottled water, the local government has taken no stepin meeting part of the medical costs therein. This solution should bethe last resort because the role of the government is to protect, andnot poison its citizens to the extent that they have to seek medicalattention. In addition, this solution contravenes the adage,prevention is better than cure. It is not logical to consumecontaminated water and then seek medical attention later. This typeof solution is only applicable to those who inadvertently consumedwater that is poisoned with lead.
Although the mess has already happened, holding the responsiblepeople accountable will prevent such a misfortune from happening infuture. Reports show that the officials did not bother to checkwhether the water from Flint River was in need of corrosioninhibitors (Botelho 9). The primary aim of the local authorities wasto cut on cost hence the reason for switching from Lake Huron tousing Flint River as a water source. Evidence is pointing towards theavoidance of adding corrosion inhibitors to the river water in orderto cut down on water treatment costs.
While the pollution presented danger, the authorities knew that thewater might cause lead poisoning but they decided to take theirchances. Had they added corrosion inhibitors to the water, they wouldhave saved the city over 90% of the incurred losses. It thereforemeans that lead poisoning in Flint was not an act of God, but acatastrophe due to negligence. It would be in order if everybody paidfor their mistakes to prevent recurrence in the future.
According to Stockton (9), most of the pipes that are made of leadare the service lines. The main lines are not prone to corrosion. Itwould be cheaper to change the service lines instead of a wholesystem overhaul. In addition, only 15% of homes in Flint were foundto have water with high levels of lead. It would therefore not beeconomically viable to dig up the entire water supply system in orderto correct the situation in 15% of the homes in Flint. This wouldlead to material interruptions of the supply of water in the city.Besides, such a venture would be dangerous and expensive. The citylacks a map of the exact places that the main pipes pass through anyattempts to dig up the pipes might interfere with other systems suchas gas, optic fiber and sewage. These main lines are 7 feet deep andreplacing the entire system would take at least 15 years.
Stockton (9) has a formula for identifying whether service pipes areprone to corrosion. The process involves scratching the inside ofservice lines. Pipes that are prone to corrosion will produce blackantimagnetic powder. Those that are not susceptible will only producesoil particles. Service lines found to have lead poisoning will bereplaced. The cost of this venture will be lower than that ofreplacing the entire water supply system.
Bluegreen Alliance. Flint clean economy project. Web.Retrieved from<http://www.bluegreenalliance.org/apollo/programs/flint>accessed March 28, 2016
Botelho Greg. No simple fix: Infrastructure, health issues loomlarge in Flint water crisis. Cnn.com. Web, Jan 2016. Retrievedfrom<http://edition.cnn.com/2016/01/19/us/flint-water-crisis-whats-next>Accessed March 28, 2016
Environmental Protection Agency, Epa.gov. Our Mission and what wedo. Web. Retrieved from<https://www.epa.gov/aboutepa/our-mission-and-what-we-do>Accessed March 28, 2016
Michigan.gov. Department of environmental quality. Web.Retrieved from<http://www.michigan.gov/deq/0,4561,7-135-3306_70585—,00.html >Accessed March 28, 2016
Reilly Michael. What are the prospects for helping the children ofFlint, or children with lead poisoning anywhere?Technologyreview.com, Web. Jan 20, 2016. Retrieved from<https://www.technologyreview.com/s/546121/can-the-lead-poisoning-in-flint-be-fixed>Accessed March 28, 2016
Stockton Nick. Here’s how hard it will be to unpoison Flint’swater. Web. Jan 2016. Retrieved from<http://www.wired.com/2016/01/heres-how-hard-it-will-be-to-unpoison-flints-water>Accessed March 28, 2016