By Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa
Published in the Detroit News, February 3, 2016
Flint residents are in crisis, placed in a situation no one in this country should have to face. Their water is contaminated with lead, putting their health at risk. And Gov. Rick Snyder is shirking his responsibilities to find a long-term solution.
Last week, Snyder announced that replacing water pipes were not in the city’s short-term plans, calling it “a lot of work” to be done. Meanwhile, some 100,000 city residents — many of them low-income — are left to make do with temporary fixes that inadequately address the problem.
Teamsters from all over the Midwest have pitched in to help the people of Flint. Members from Grand Rapids to Indianapolis have trucked in more than 200,000 bottles of water as of last week. And those efforts will continue. But make no mistake, bottled water or even water filters are not a permanent solution to the problem.
Flint is suffering from failing infrastructure. While the city’s water is now being drawn from Lake Huron, the damage has been done. Upward of 20,000 city homes have lead pipes, yet not a single one has been removed.
This is not just a Flint problem. Cities all across America have aging water infrastructure, including lead pipes. It is a ticking time bomb that must be addressed by policymakers at all levels of government. That’s why the Teamsters last year rolled out its Let’s Get America Working platform that specifically addressed the need to invest in better water facilities.
But the Snyder administration shouldn’t be let off the hook so easy. This is a tragedy that Michiganders have been aware of and the families of Flint have been dealing with since April 2014. Decisions made by state officials over the last year-and-a-half have led to a community being forced to use tainted water.
Despite a community uniting together to demand a clean and safe water supply, government officials ignored and dismissed their concerns. However, it took less than six months for General Motors in Flint to be granted a change of water source after complaining that the water was rusting its parts. What does that say about our government when car parts are put ahead of public safety?
The parents of Flint’s 8,000 young children have real reason for worry. Even trace amounts of lead can have health effects that could last a lifetime. That includes lower IQ scores, developmental delays and behavioral issues such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It is believed that all of them have been exposed.
Elected officials in Michigan need to ask themselves what they would do if their own families faced such a health crisis. Certainly they would not be satisfied with a response that says changes might be made down the road.
Finding solutions is what good leaders do. Now is the time for Snyder to push forward with a forward-looking plan that improves the health, safety and well-being of Flint residents. Their needs can no longer be ignored.