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Damage assessment: The challenges facing Flint residents two years after emergency declaration

Jan 5, 2018

Carma Lewis is the Community Outreach Coordinator for FACT, the Flint Action Coordination Team.
Credit Courtesy of Carma Lewis

Today marks two years since Governor Rick Snyder declared a ‘state of emergency’ in Flint because of lead contamination in the city's water.

Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody reported that water quality has improved since the city switched back to Detroit system after using the Flint River, whose improperly treated water corroded pipes. The city has also seen almost 6,000 lead lines replaced. That’s around a third of the number to be replaced.

But there’s still a lot of confusion among Flint residents. 

Many don’t trust the water. Many are trying to get more information and find resources available to them. Negotiating all that can be overwhelming.

One woman has been helping everyone she can. When she doesn’t have the answer, she finds it and reports back. The City of Flint noticed, and hired Carma Lewis. She’s now the Community Outreach Coordinator for FACT, the Flint Action Coordination Team.

Lewis joined Stateside to discuss how Flint residents are continuing to struggle with the water debacle.

Listen above for the full conversation, or read highlights below.

On her work in Flint

Lewis has dedicated her time to answering the questions of Flint residents about the water crisis. She has no set routine when it comes to answering their questions. She receives messages through phone calls, text messages, and Facebook. “Every day is different,” she said. “It all depends on what’s happening that day, and what person walks up to me.”

Lewis has always referred to herself with the title of “resident.” “We’re all in this together,” she said. “I know how the residents feel. I’m one of them.”

On what Flint residents most often ask her

The question Lewis fields the most is about the quality of pipes inside Flint homes. She directs those residents to a Michigan lead abatement program that has greatly expanded its services.

A lot of the questions she receives could have been asked by plenty of Flint residents. “I share information through social media because when one person asks a question, I just naturally assume that others may want that same information.”

On what still needs to be done in Flint

Lewis is confident that Flint is making necessary improvements in supplying clean drinking water to its residents, but she says that there’s still some way to go. “I have found that there’s a lot of people still that do not have filters,” she said. 

Improvements also change from person to person. “Some of them feel more comfortable. And then, some have not. And so they tend to be still in crisis mode,” she added.

Lewis does have one metric to determine when Flint’s recovery will reach a tipping point. “Once everyone knows that they have copper lines, [and] the other parts of the infrastructure [have] been replaced, that’s when people will feel more comfortable.”

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