From Flint To Your Kitchen Sink: How America’s Deteriorating Water Systems Are About To Collapse.
“Water, water every where, not any drop to drink.” –Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”
If you’ve ever traveled overseas, you know that one of the first questions you ask upon landing in a new country is: how is the water? In the US we take it for granted that turning the kitchen tap will result in a clean, drinkable glass of water with nothing to fear in the way of bacteria or toxins, but with aging water systems rapidly deteriorating, that might soon be a thing of the past.
Such was the burden of the residents of Flint, Michigan when they discovered that their source of drinking water was contaminated with lead and other toxins. The water source had been shifted from Lake Huron, where Detroit and many other municipalities get relatively clean, fresh drinking water to the Flint River, a toxic soup of runoff from former auto plants, and as a result of mindless “austerity” measures by the state government, nearly 1000 children under the age of six contracted lead poisoning. Over 5,000 children had elevated lead levels in their blood.
And that is a horrific and awful story to have to tell in the year 2016, a crime perpetrated on unknowing citizens who trusted that their government would look out for their best interests.
But what often gets lost in the hubbub around the Flint water crisis is the actual source of the lead and toxins that infiltrated the homes and lives of so many people. The real culprit is the pipes that feed the city–and Michigan officials who chose to cheap out on adding needed anti-corrosion chemicals to the water after making the switch.
The problem lies in the chemicals in the various water sources. Immediately upon making the switch to Flint River water, the ancient iron pipes began to corrode due to the presence of high levels of chloride in the water, which is what caused the brackish, brown-colored water some residents saw.
And when that water encountered lead pipes, the corrosion there released lead and copper.
But here’s the really scary thing: Flint’s water system was built 70 to 100 years ago–as was the water infrastructure across much of the US.
Pipes have a lifespan of about 60 to 100 years, depending on what materials they are made from. Treatment plants’ components can last maybe 15 to 25 years. Without speedy and across-the-board upgrades, bacteria, lead, arsenic and other toxins could become much more common across the nation.
And with state and federal government officials caught up in a cycle of mindless austerity while billionaires on Wall Street are coddled and rarely even deign to pay their fair share, that future seems more and more likely. Get ready for a whole lot of stories like Flint to come down the pipe.
Water, water everywhere, indeed. But be careful what you drink.