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Flint

Jack Lessenberry
Michigan Radio

This Week in Michigan Politics, Jack Lessenberry talks about Flint's role in the democratic race for president, and Governor Snyder volunteering to testify about the Flint water crisis in front of Congress. Lessenberry also talks about Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette's fight against the Obama administration's rules for Michigan to cut carbon emissions from power plants by 31 percent by 2030. 


Tap water in a Flint hospital on Oct. 16, 2015.
Joyce Zhu / Flintwaterstudy.org

One of the most critical points in discovering the full extent of Flint’s water crisis was a study of blood-lead levels in Flint children.

That study, by pediatrician Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, found that after the city switched to the Flint River for its drinking water, lead levels in the blood of Flint’s kids doubled. Since then, Hanna-Attisha has become internationally famous, using the attention to fight for the lead-poisoned children of Flint.

But it’s possible she wouldn't have thought to check those blood-lead levels without the help of an old friend from the ninth grade.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver says she didn’t think Friday was “a bad time” to fire three top city officials.

Some have questioned the timing of Weaver’s decision to let go of Flint Police Chief James Tolbert, Fire Chief David Cox and City Administrator Natasha Henderson last week.

This comes as the city struggles with its drinking water crisis.

“I can’t wait for the water crisis to be ended because we don’t know when that will happen,” says Weaver. 

The three officials were hired by Flint’s former emergency managers.

Photo by Marcin Szczepanski

The Next Idea

There are lingering fears that nothing will be the same in Flint. But maybe things shouldn’t be the same. What if there is a better way for Flint and other cities to harvest and deliver life-enhancing water?

People across the nation are judging Flint as an epic failure of leadership and poor choices. There is no doubt that Flint’s water crisis is an unqualified failure of democracy, but it is also a century-old failure of design and systems thinking.     

Governor Rick Snyder
Flickr user Michigan Municipal League / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

FLINT, Mich. (AP) - Gov. Rick Snyder is asking the federal government to expand Medicaid coverage to people under 21 and pregnant women who have been exposed to Flint's lead-contaminated water.

In a statement released Sunday, Snyder says about 15,000 more Flint residents would benefit if the government approves the request. The governor says the state would help by lining up doctors and behavioral health specialists and providing other services.

A Flint water protest
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

FLINT, Mich. - A newly released email shows that shortly before Flint began drawing its drinking water from the Flint River, an official with the city water plant feared things were moving too quickly.

Mike Glasgow was laboratory and water quality supervisor on April 17, 2014, when he sent a message to officials with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Glasgow said people above him were planning to distribute water "ASAP." But he said he still needed time to train more staffers and update monitoring plans.

Guy Williams and Lester Graham
Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

Correction for the audio interview: 48217 is the most polluted ZIP code in Michigan (as stated), but the Delray neighborhood is in the neighboring ZIP code. It is the second most polluted.

The Flint water crisis has brought attention to a larger issue: why do we see more contamination and pollution issues in areas where poor people and, often, people of color live?

Flint’s water is just the tip of the iceberg. Flint has been an industrial city for generations, and still suffers from the lingering pollution left behind by over a century’s worth of factories. Much of the city’s housing was built using lead-based products like paint.

James Tolbert
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The heads of Flint's police and fire departments are out of those jobs.

Mayor Karen Weaver said Friday in a press release she's restructuring city operations and has accepted the resignations of Police Chief James Tolbert and Fire Chief David Cox Jr. She's also fired City Administrator Natasha Henderson.

“I’m doing what I told the people who voted for me that I would do," says Weaver, "My focus is moving the City of Flint forward and I feel these personnel changes are necessary to keep us on the right path.”

The country's two most vacant cities are in Michigan

Feb 11, 2016
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A new report from Realty Trac says Flint is the most vacant city in the nation, and Detroit isn't far behind.

According to the report, 7.5 percent of homes in Flint are vacant. Detroit comes in second at 5.3 percent.

Flint officials testify at Congressional hearing

Feb 10, 2016
sign in Flint, Michigan
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Democrats in Congress held hearings today about the Flint water crisis.

Public health experts and Flint officials appeared in front of the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee.

Flint officials testified they need federal money to help address the short and long-term consequences of lead in Flint's water supply. They said state funds are not enough. 

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha directs the Pediatric Residency Program at Hurley Medical Center in Flint. She said educational, nutritional, physical and mental health services must begin immediately.

Kate Wells/Michigan Radio

Luke Waid says he was stunned when he got the results from his daughter Sophia's 1-year check-up.

It was August 2014, and a blood test revealed a lead level of 14 micrograms per deciliter. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control considers 5 "high." 

Six months earlier, Sophia's blood-lead level had been fine, Waid says. Then, in April of 2014, Flint started pumping its drinking water from the Flint River. Four months after that, her lead level spiked.

The following month, in September, Waid says doctors did a follow-up test, just to be certain. Same result.

sign in Flint, Michigan
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

If you were to ask the average Michigander what the origins of Flint’s downfall were, you might get a few different answers. Some of those answers would likely be related to the auto industry – specifically, when General Motors left the city in the 1980s.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Gov. Rick Snyder says the state is working with two Flint organizations to hire 50 residents who will help test the city's water for lead contamination.

Snyder announced Monday that Orchards Children's Services and the Flint YMCA's Safe Places Program will help hire and train city residents this month.

More residents may be hired as needed.

The Republican governor says in a press release that water testing teams need more people to get the job done, and "no one is better suited to help the city bounce back."

Two young protesters at City Hall last week. The council floated a draft resolution to ask the city to stop charging people for water.
Kate Wells / Michigan Radio

But here’s the thing: the city council doesn’t really have the power to actually force the city to stop billing people for their water.

That’s because big financial decisions (and this one would be a doozy) still have to be okayed by a state-appointed board, called the Receivership Transition Advisory Board.

They’re the guys the state put in place after the Emergency Manager left in April 2015.

Technically, that’s when Flint “transitioned back to local control,” according to the state, but there’s still a lot of limitations on what local officials can actually do.

Michigan presidential primary voters will head to the polls a month from tomorrow. But, if you think the action is waiting until then, think again.

Two dogs in Flint test positive for lead toxicity

Feb 7, 2016
A husky/malamute mix dog
bullcitydogs / Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Officials are reminding people to make sure pets aren't drinking unfiltered Flint tap water, after two area dogs tested positive for lead toxicity in recent months.

State Veterinarian Dr. James Averill says the tests were confirmed in October 2015 and January 2016.

He said both dogs, a stray and a family pet, could've been exposed to Flint's lead-tainted water.

Both dogs are still alive.

Symptoms of lead exposure in pets vary greatly and can include vomiting, diarrhea and changes in behavior.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

  FLINT, Mich. (AP) - Michigan Governor Rick Snyder says he's reaching out to Flint's Latino community to make sure residents are getting bottled water and filters during the city's lead-contamination crisis.

  The governor on Friday visited Our Lady Guadalupe Catholic Church, where volunteers are distributing water and filters to the church's predominantly Latino parishioners.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Flint businesses are now able to apply for federal disaster loans.

But it may not be the help that some businesses need.

The Small Business Administration approved the governor’s economic disaster declaration on Friday.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Hillary Clinton is bringing her presidential campaign to Flint Sunday.

But her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination is also setting up shop in town this weekend.

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders will top the Democratic side of Michigan’s presidential primary next month.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

FLINT, Mich. (AP) - Michigan Governor Rick Snyder is defending how his office responded to an email flagging a potential link between a surge in Legionnaires' disease and Flint's water.

  The Republican governor told The Associated Press Friday that an aide, Harvey Hollins, asked the Department of Environmental Quality to look into a local official's concerns further. He says the DEQ was skeptical of any link last March and "didn't bring it forward" again.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wants all Flint kids, age six and under, to get a blood test for lead by April 1.

That's more than 8,000 kids, according to census data.

"That's a lot of kids to test,” says Dr. Nicole Lurie of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  “Testing is underway. And there are lots of places in this city, whether it's your doctors office, or other sites where you can get tested in the next two months."

The state says it's important to assume all kids who drank Flint water in the last two years were exposed to lead.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

There’s a sign on the front door of Blackstone’s Pub and Grill in downtown Flint.  It reads: Water Test: Lead Free.   

Business is down at many Flint restaurants. Their owners blame the city’s drinking water crisis, but there’s a push on now to change people’s minds.

State, county, and local officials held a news conference today to show what’s being done to make sure the water used to prepare food, and the water used for ice is lead free.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

New tests suggest filters work even in Flint homes with high levels of lead in the drinking water.

EPA officials say 50 homes have tested at 150 parts per billion of lead, well above the federal action level, and at the filters’ posted limit.

But the EPA’s Mark Durno says tests at 10 of those homes show filters can still remove the lead.

“Even at those higher levels, even the ones that came back still over 150, when you pass them through the filter they are non-detect,” says Durno.

According to the poll, Governor Snyder's approval rating has fallen to 39.7%.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Emails released Thursday show a top aide to Gov. Rick Snyder knew about an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in Flint and its possible links to the Flint River, almost a year before Snyder says he found out about it.

The emails are to Harvey Hollins, who Snyder just picked to lead the state’s response team in Flint. Back in 2011, Hollins was named director of the Michigan Office of Urban and Metropolitan Initiatives. That means he was a " principal adviser to the governor on matters related to urban and regional economic initiatives that contribute to job growth." 

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

High levels of lead in their drinking water have Flint residents relying on cases of bottled water for just about everything.  

It may come as no surprise that thousands of those residents have stopped paying their water bills.  

And that presents both questions and problems.    

Last week, Lynna Kaucheck handed a stack of papers to a staffer outside Flint’s mayor’s office.

Kate Wells/Michigan Radio

$90 million. That’s how much money the city of Flint says it needs to cover people’s water bills for the rest of 2016, and to repay the bills people have already received for lead-contaminated water over the last couple of years.

Flint’s city administrator Natasha Henderson crunched the numbers, and says Governor Snyder’s proposal to send $30 million for water bill compensation just doesn’t go far enough.

Jack Lessenberry
Michigan Radio

This Week in Michigan Politics, Jack Lessenberry talks about the bill to prevent teacher sickouts in Detroit; how Detroit Public Schools emergency manager and former emergency manager of Flint Darnell Earley has stepped down ,and refused to testify in a Congressional hearing about Flint's water crisis; and proposals to replace lead pipes in Flint, and where the money will come from to make that happen. 


Kate Wells/Michigan Radio

Flint will start replacing lead service lines connected to homes with pregnant women or kids under the age of six.

That’s according to Mayor Karen Weaver, who said those are the “highest risk” homes in the city.

But she isn’t saying how many homes that will be, or how much it’ll cost. That could be because the city doesn’t really know yet.

flickr user Bart / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

In Flint, attorneys have filed what they hope will be a massive, class-action lawsuit representing all of the city’s residents.  

The same Baltimore law firm that represented the family of Freddie Gray, who died under questionable circumstances while in police custody, is now part of the legal team seeking at least $150 million for Flint residents.

That money, attorneys say, would be partly to refund the last two years of water bills, starting from when the city switched to suing the Flint River.

Photo courtesy of Inforummichigan.org and Peplin Photographic (larrypeplin.com)

The Flint Receivership Transition Advisory Board has been overseeing Flint since Jerry Ambrose, the city’s last emergency manager, left last April.

The state says the goal of the RTAB is to put the city on a path toward good financial health and return full control back to the city government.

So where does the process of returning power to the city’s elected leadership stand?

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