Flint, Michigan has a crisis that needs immediate attention.
Youâ€™ve heard about the lead that has been leaching out of the pipes of the homes, schools and businesses in Flint.Â Let me summarize the facts, and then Iâ€™ll propose a solution.
- In April 2014, Flint chose to draw the cityâ€™s water from the Flint River as a cost-cutting maneuver, rather than continuing to use the Detroit water supply.
- The water from the Flint River was highly corrosive to the lead pipes found throughout the city of Flint and its homes, allowing the lead to be released into the tap water.
- After a year and a half, the city switched back to Detroit water after unsafe levels of lead were found in Flint children.
- Even though the corrosive Flint River water is no longer used, the lead from the pipes continues to seep into the drinking water. The pipes cannot be made safe.
- The amount of lead detected in Flint tap water is deadly. Some levels are so high, the water meets the EPA classification of â€œtoxic waste.â€
- Let me be clear about this â€“ the level of lead in the Flint water system is like deadly radiation. Itâ€™s beyond the level that one can ignore or take steps to work around.Â Hereâ€™s an article from the Washington PostÂ which illustrates the toxicity.
- There is no safe amount of lead exposure. Â It lowers a childâ€™s IQ and adversely affects nearly system in the body.Â The effects cannot be reversed and are lifelong.
- Water quality superstar Professor Marc Edwards (winner of a McArthur Genius grant for his work on our water infrastructure crisis in the U.S.) stated in an NPR interview, â€œThe damage that was done to Flintâ€™s children and to the pipes cannot be undone. The price tag to just replace the city-owned pipes completely would be $1.5 billion.â€Â He also noted that itâ€™s usually a 30-year process to replace an entire distribution system.
The situation is clear.Â Flint cannot be made safe in the foreseeable future, and we cannot expect Americans with this threat to their health and life.
The only solution is that Flint must be abandoned.
The 100,000 residents of Flint (which includes 27,000 children) should be given the option to relocate to a safer area of their choice.Â Detroit is nearby (about an hourâ€™s drive) and has a housing surplus.Â Or people may find other Michigan cities more appealing, places which are close to friends and family.
Homeowners should be reimbursed for their now-worthless houses. Â There are about 40,000 single-family homes in Flint.Â With a median value of around $30,000, the total value of Flintâ€™s housing stock pencils out to about $1.2 billion.
Each resident should also be compensated for the disruption of relocation.Â Figuring $20,000 per resident, thatâ€™s another $2 billion.Â And of course, each Flint resident should receive lifelong medical monitoring and care for the effects of lead poisoning.
Adding another billion or two (because thatâ€™s the way things seem to work), and the whole tab would be about $5 billion.Â Thatâ€™s a bargain compared to the $110 billion of damage from Hurricane Katrina.Â And if $5 billion sounds like an impossible figure, bear in mind that the Navyâ€™s newest aircraft carrier will cost about $13 billion or that some top hedge fund managers earned $4 billion in 2013.
I’m fully aware that it’s a terrible thing to suggest that a city be abandoned, especially one with a history as rich as Flint’s. Â I don’t say this lightly, because everyone’s hometown is a special place that can never be fully replaced. Â But every citizen is entitled to an environment in which they can reasonably expect to to stay healthy and in its current state, Flint is a threat to its residents.
Furthermore, no one will ever migrate to Flint again. Â State and local officials and agencies have minimized the severity of the situation, deceiving Flint residents for years. Â Trust has been destroyed and no rational person would ever believe reports which might show that Flint’s water has become safe to drink. Â The city of Flint is doomed to die anyway, and we should speed the process to save the lives its residents.
Do the right thing. Â Let Flint’s crisis be evidence that the United States can care for its citizens and actÂ with speed and resolve.