Deteriorating Infrastructure

Can there be anyone in the world who hasn’t heard of the contaminated water system in Flint, Michigan? In April 2015, the city’s emergency manager oversaw the changing of the source of the city’s drinking water from the Detroit municipal supply to the Flint River to save money. Soon after, Flint residents began complaining that the water had a foul smell and that drinking it and bathing in it caused skin rashes and hair loss. The local General Motors plant noticed that the water corroded metal and stopped using it.

Tests revealed that the water had a high bacterial content, and Flint residents were advised to boil the water before drinking it. However, no one told residents that the water had an even graver problem that boiling it wouldn’t solve. The water had a high lead content.

A year ago, in January 2015, it was also found that the water contained dangerous chemicals. The City of Detroit offered to allow Flint to reconnect to its water system at no cost, but the Flint emergency manager declined. Why?

In February 2015, the State of Michigan awarded the City of Flint $2 million to improve its water supply. I have no idea where the money went, but Flint’s water continued to negatively affect the health of the City’s residents and to cause permanent health damage to the health of the residents’ children.

In January of this year, in an admission that Flint’s water was unsafe to drink, the National Guard began distributing bottled water to Flint’s residents. Flint’s water supply was then belatedly switched back to the Detroit water system. However, due to the contamination of Flint’s distribution system, the water continues to be unfit do drink.

The reason for the lead contamination is said to be the fact that Flint’s water distribution system is still made up of ancient and unsafe lead pipes. During the years, a protective patina had build up on the inside of the pipes, which prevented lead from the pipes from leaching into the water. When the water source was switched to the Flint river, the highly corrosive river water dissolved that patina and allowed exposed the water to the lead pipe lining. Very high levels of lead began appearing in the water, and many Flint residents drank that water for over a year. A chemical that could have impeded the corrosion of the patina was not added to the water for unknown reasons. The cost of adding the chemical to the water would have been minimal.

It is to be assumed that many of Flint’s children have suffered permanent brain damage. The neurological damage caused by high levels of lead in the body is irreversible. How could this be allowed to happen in one of the richest countries in the world?

The blame has been placed on the decision to switch the source of Flint’s water, and that is a decision that deserves criminal penalties. Probably no one will go to jail for taking that decision, but someone should. Negligently allowing the health and mental capacity of thousands of children to be irreparably damaged is a horrendous crime.

However, why does the City of Flint have lead pipes in the first place? It has been common knowledge for decades that lead in the water or in the air is a serious threat to human health and especially to the physical and mental health of children. Those pipes should have been replaced 50 years ago.

The City of Flint is a poor, declining community, and it is evident that the City itself cannot possibly pay to bring its water mains up to modern standards. Nevertheless, this is one of the richest countries on Earth, and it is incomprehensible that the less well off should be allowed to suffer brain damage while despite the fact that the richest among us have so much wealth that they cannot possibly spend it, they demand and get ever larger tax cuts for themselves. Warren Buffett once joked that he was going to write a book How to Get By on $500 Million “because apparently there’s a lot of people that don’t really know how to do it.”

I live in a Phoenix neighborhood with decaying water mains. As I wrote in an earlier post, there are frequent water main breaks in my neighborhood. Yet, the City of Phoenix apparently doesn’t have the money to fill potholes let alone replace the ancient water mains. What is the quality of the water in my house? (A lot of my hair has fallen out, but I think that has more to do with old age than with the quality of my water.)

According to the NBC News website, “It’s been three weeks since Michigan declared a state of emergency in Flint, but not a single water pipe that contains lead has been replaced, NBC News has learned.”

If an economically troubled country such as Spain can reasonably maintain its infrastructure, why can’t the more prosperous United States do the same. The answer, of course, is the political climate. A large number of American view higher taxes, and especially higher taxes on people much richer than they are, as something contrary to American values. They would rather see kids suffer brain damage than require the extremely rich to pay their share of taxes.