By Carmen M. Woodson-Wray, Gary Crusader
Harriette Washington, host of the talk show, “Issues and Answers,” on WLTH Radio in Gary, held a special program last week featuring representatives from Flint, MI and guest panelist, Reverend Jerry Protho, a community activist and pastor of Unity Baptist Church.
In 2014 when the financially struggling city switched its water source from the Detroit municipal system to the Flint River to save money, the water in Flint became contaminated. Regulators failed to ensure proper treatment of the new water. Lead from corroded pipes leaked into the water supply, causing a spike in the number of children whose blood tested positive for lead.
Lead is a potent neurotoxin linked to brain damage and the associated learning disabilities, lower IQ and behavioral problems.
Melissa Mays, a mother from Flint with three sons—ages 17, 12 and 11, who have been diagnosed with lead poisoning after being exposed to water from the Flint River—said the problem began when the state imposed the Michigan Emergency Manager Law in Flint, which she called an unheard of law.
“When the water was switched to save money—supposedly in 2014—people immediately noticed that the water was discolored. They begin to get rashes, experience hair losses—same as my family—muscle soreness and people were just getting unexplainably sick. We were told the water was safe and fine by the Emergency Manager. We started yelling for help, and no one could hear us. We were muted. That was one of the whole byproducts of the state imposed emergency manager.
“It was put into place to solve budget problems and the spending democracy. Our city council and our mayor no longer had any kind of authoritative say. We kept complaining about the water. It was brown, yellow, blue—all of these colors; it smelled terrible, it tasted awful. We were told we were fine, we were being silly, that we were overreacting, and that it’s just hard water, and that’s the difference between lake water and river water.”
Mays went on to explain that the community was not informed that the water contained a cancer-causing byproduct of lead, copper, tin, aluminum, and other metal elements.
During the summer in 2014, there were three boil advisories, yet, people did not find out about the advisories until after the third one; they were in the danger area every time.
“They didn’t notify us, they didn’t mail anything out telling us to boil our water in 2014. Not knowing that when you boil the byproducts or the heavy metals that are released in the steam, and that we were putting our families in more danger by trying to boil out the bacteria. They knew that these levels were there and they did not tell us. We did not find out until January 2015 that a cancer-causing byproduct was in our water. We had been inhaling and ingesting it for nine months,” stated Mays.
When the citizens had enough, Mays said they reached out to Erin Brockovich, an environmental activist who assists people adversely affected by environmental issues, for help and started protesting.
“The people of Flint were fed up and done, so we did scientific research on our own, and Brockovich sent us help in the form of a 30-year water expert, who marched and protested along with the people of Flint. The expert warned us about what was going on and warned us about the lead and copper. He gave us advice about how to get the right research done and how to get all the information and how to fight. And that’s what we did.”
Mays said the state tried to hush them up and tried to discredit scientists and civil engineers they brought in to compare the blood levels of children to the water levels that they had uncovered. They found a direct correlation.
“We found out that they lied to us, and that the state cheated on the test to hide the lead instead of fixing it. They spent more time covering it up.”
Mays said that through all of this, she found out that her family also had copper poisoning and that her sons are dealing with immune disorders, anemia, and bone breakage. “My son’s bones are so brittle,” she said.
Her sons are experiencing dental issues because their teeth are crumbling; educational issues, behavioral issues and they have no immune system. At this point, they are sick constantly.
“It is horrifying to watch my kids go through this knowing that somebody else did this to them.”
She said her oldest son is a junior in high school and enrolled in college courses so that he would be able to graduate from high school.
“But now, he needs a tutor and educational help because he has brain issues. All three of my kids are smart, bright and struggling and it is permanent damage. It’s horrifying and infuriating knowing that this was done to save $100 a day, and will cost billions to repair,” she said.