In April 2014, Michigan officials decided to cut costs by switching the city of Flint’s water supply from Lake Huron — what the city was paying for — to the notoriously filthy Flint River. The town of Flint was in a financial crisis and the changeover was intended to be a temporary measure until the completion of a new state-run supply line to Lake Huron. In total, the project was supposed to take two years.

Shortly after the water supply was redirected, residents noticed a huge change. Their once clear tap water often looked dirty, smelled bad and had a strange taste. People thought the water supply had been plagued by sewage, but the culprit was actually iron. According to researchers from Virginia Tech, the Flint River is 19 times more corrosive than Lake Huron.

Flint Residents Fight for Answers

After months of being ignored by city and state officials, the people of Flint were forced to seek their own resolution. According to the Los Angeles Times, Flint mom LeeAnne Walters reached out to Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech civil engineering professor who had previously assisted the Flint community in uncovering the dangers of the water supply switch.

Michigan state law requires extensive lead testing of preschool children and by this time, evidence of a huge spike was readily apparent. Pediatricians had also noticed an increase, but the evidence was largely ignored by officials.

Edwards told the Los Angeles Times that the united front of political and regulatory bodies largely hindered scientists at public agencies and institutions from assisting with the crisis, but he felt if he didn’t step in, no one would.

In August 2015, the Virginia Tech researchers came to Flint and conducted in-home testing of the water. They found elevated levels of lead and publically revealed these findings. State officials continued to maintain that their research was more accurate.

Repairing Flint’s Water Supply

In October 2015, officials finally reinstated Lake Huron as Flint’s water supply, but this didn’t repair the damage that had already been done to the lead pipes that service half the city’s homes. Despite a noticeable drop in lead levels, the Virginia Tech researchers continued to detect the toxic substance in Flint drinking water.

President Obama declared the Flint water crisis a state of emergency in January. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has apologized to residents and said he will fix the town’s toxic water disaster. Flint Mayor Karen Weaver has noted that some good first steps have been put into action, but the poor, minority community has a long way to go.

Flint residents are still unable to drink tap water and after two dogs in the area tested positive for lead poisoning, officials are reminding owners that unfiltered tap water is also unsafe for pets.

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