Flint Water, or Why Shouldn’t I Eat Pasta? By Leaded Lady
I am from Flint, Michigan, lead water capital of the US. We have been poisoned by our government here in Flint, when our governor and city manager (unelected) switched our water source. We had no vote, no say, and no recourse. Except to not drink the water.
The elected officials, who had no power at the time, voted against the switch. So what?
We had no idea the new water wasn't treated with non-corrosive chemicals. The new water was Flint River water. It was ok water, but it needed to be treated to keep from corroding the pipes in the city. No such treatment happened.
None of us knew that. The politicians stood together with big ole glasses of water to prove that it was safe to drink. Even though nobody was quite sure about that. The Flint River has always been polluted.
Well, turns out that it was not safe to run through our old-ass pipes.
So in April 2014, the switch happened and the lead started leaching out and getting into our pipes and running through our faucets.
Ours. In our house. Ours.
No one thinks it can happen to them. It did.
But we didn't know. We just knew the water tasted weird and smelled off. But that wasn't the lead, really. Because ya can't taste and smell it.
So we wrinkled our noses and used the water for dishes, tooth brushing, ice, Kool Aid, tea and coffee, cooking, showers, washing clothes, cleaning, and watering the lawn.
I kept buying water to drink plain because the taste was so yucky by itself.
2014 and 2015. My husband and I had lots of kids in the house as our son, who was 8 at the time, made friends with every kid in the neighborhood. I made limitless gallons of Kool Aid for them. I fed them pots of spaghetti and goulash and mac n cheese, with pasta boiled in tap water.
I watched the news. The water was safe, we were told.
Then we had a boil advisory. That was weird. The water wasn’t safe. Oh, well. More spaghetti. I could boil the bad stuff out.
I thought about buying a water filter, but, you know how it goes. You think about it and then feel silly. The water is supposed to be safe, and all the noisy people are just fear-mongering. Plus, filters are expensive and a giant-ass hassle. I had a Brita jug filter. I hauled that out and used it, but the water still tasted weird. That still wasn't the lead, though.
Bottled water suddenly had a bad reputation as plastic bottles were deemed carcinogenic. Oh, and some of these water bottlers are just repackaging tap water anyway. So I'm spending money on bottled water for nothing but a ticket to cancer-town.
Then, in July of 2015, my neighbor called. She told me there were free filters to be had, but I'd better get there quickly. Some anonymous person donated a bunch of filters for residents. I should get one. Why? I asked. They are free, she said. You can filter the water for free. Ok. I just happened to be available and willing to go.
My son and his friend and I went to a church with tables set up according to zip codes. I showed people my ID and filled out a half-page form. They gave me a faucet-mounted filter. Just like that. I felt a little silly.
But I went home and allowed a friend to put it on the faucet. He said to me, you know the water is safe, right? These people are full of shit, thinking it's bad water. There have been tests. I nodded and let him put the filter on.
I showed it to my husband when he got home. Ok, he said. Why not?
The filter was a pain in the ass. It made washing dishes difficult. It was in the way. It had a tiny stream that shot out too hard and squirted everything. I almost took it off. I think my husband did, too.
I used the filtered water for everything but washing dishes. It was too annoying.
And then the news. The water is poisoned. Get your water tested. Get your blood tested. Get a filter. Don't drink it. Don't cook with it. Good news! We have a filter already.
Then, we heard that filters don't work fully. They only filter up to a certain level. And then, the filters have to be certified a certain way. If not, they don't work. Brita jug filters don't work. Filters that don’t have a seal that certifies them for lead removal don’t work. Filters don’t filter water tested higher than 150 parts per billion.
And then, oh, and then... Your water has tested at 200 ppb. Under 15 is considered safe, maybe. None is better.
You are lead-poisoned.
Everything stops. Everything. Deep breath.
They come to our house. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. The EPA. The Health Department. A plumber. Lots of people asking lots of questions. Do you have children in the home? Yes. How long have they been drinking the water? At least a year and a half in Kool aid and spaghetti and mac n cheese and everything.
They bring us brochures and bombard us with paper. Don't boil the water; it concentrates the lead. Don't brush teeth with it. Animals can get lead poisoning, too. Get your dogs tested.
Even if you get tested, there's nothing that can be done.
Make sure you are totally on bottled water. The filters can only handle 150 ppb. Yours is at 200.
Legionnaire's disease is in the water. It comes out in the shower. Have you been showering in the water? Only for two years.
Check your pipes in the house. Do they contain lead? Yes, probably. Replace them. And the hot water heater, too. Lead has built up in the bottom of the water heater and will come out each time it's used. The lead just gets stirred up again and again.
This is a disaster. A tornado. A flood. A hurricane. A tsunami. For us, anyway. And we have resources that others don’t have.
$3600 later we have new pipes, a whole-house filter, and a new water heater. No, insurance does not cover this. It's not a natural disaster. It’s not considered a disaster at all.
Ha ha ha. Right. It's a lot worse than a natural disaster. We were poisoned by our government.
Then there are the water bills. About the time the pipes began to leach lead into the water, our bills went up. We were paying around $40-50 a month for water. Then it was $60-70. Then at least $100. A month. For poison.
For a while, we learned that there would be no shut-offs for overdue bills. Then the shut-offs started again. A judge ruled that we were being charged too much for water. We were supposed to see relief in our bills. No such relief came. It was still $100 or more a month for us. Other people were at $200-300. A month.
Rumors flew that CPS would take children away if our water was shut off. We had to pay or risk losing our kids. That turned out to be an unfounded rumor, but everyone I knew felt that they still had to pay. And really, water shut-off is not something people can handle easily. How do you use your toilet? What do you do about all the other water needs that exist?
When the news of lead hit, we were still being charged for water. Still the highest water bills in the nation. The absolute highest for this lovely, stinky water. In March of 2016, the ruling was overturned. Our bill shot up to $360 for poison water.
Why not leave town? I saw that comment on Facebook over and over again. So why not?
And go where? With what resources? Our house is paid for. No one will buy it from us. No one wants to live in the city of poison water.
If someone did buy it, ha ha, we wouldn't get a whole lot for it. How would we buy another house? Or should we go back to renting with a kid and 3 dogs? Where will we rent?
This is our home. Our friends are here. Our son's school. All our support networks. Everything.
We like it here. We do. It is home. So we stay. And here we are.
The bottles of water they give us are small. We get cases of small bottles donated by various wonderful people. I drive up to the fire station line and wait my turn. Volunteers heave two cases of water in small bottles into the car.
I have to carry them in the house. They are very heavy cases for me.
I have to open multiple bottles to cook or give the dogs water. I have to open a couple to make coffee and ice, wash fruit and vegetables. It's a huge pain. Just as annoying as the filter in the sink, which is useless. But we still don't take it off. I'm now washing dishes with the filtered water. It's slow and difficult. I have been squirted repeatedly by the small but intense stream of water.
Multiple bottles to make spaghetti or mac n cheese. Not to look down on the gifts of water, but...we needed gallons instead. Gallons are easier to manage.
Someone wrote on Facebook about why any of us in Flint would waste this water by making pasta. Why would we do that? Why not cook something else that doesn't need so much water?
Why not? Because my child eats spaghetti and mac n cheese. That's what he likes. He is a lead-poisoned child. If he wants spaghetti, then that's what he wants. It's not wasting water to make it for him. We want what everyone else wants. We want to be able to use water without thinking about it. It's human right.
Plastic water bottles will kill us. The water will kill us. So who gives a shit about a little bit of spaghetti?
I spent a year and a half handing out poison Kool Aid to kids. I spent equally as long boiling the lead water, drinking lead tea and coffee, using lead ice-cubes. I don’t worry about using up bottles of water for unleaded spaghetti. Really.