As EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder appeared before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to answer questions on the Flint, Michigan water poisoning, Green Party presidential hopeful Dr. Jill Stein issued the following statement.
“Today the people of Flint, Michigan are heroes of health and democracy, fighting back against abuse and neglect in a political system that threatens us all. It is tragic and criminal that families and children have been injured by a series of negligent and harmful actions by multiple government agencies, elected and appointed officials, Congress and both establishment political parties. Flint is a wounded canary in the mine shaft of an economy that puts profit over people, endangering low income and communities of color first and worst – and ultimately imperiling us all.
As a first step in restoring clean water and accountable government, I support the call by the people of Flint for both Governor Snyder and EPA director Gina McCarthy to be removed from office and face any appropriate charges for overseeing this health disaster. Americans across the country owe thanks to the Flint community. By standing up for health and democracy in Flint, they are standing up for us all.
As a medical doctor, I understand the devastating consequences of this crisis to the residents of Flint, especially the children, for whom lead exposure means greater difficulty in cognitive and behavioral skills such as learning, attention, memory, impulse control and social behavior. I was first propelled into political action to fight the needless epidemics of childhood diseases resulting from inadequate health protection, including neurodisability from lead and other toxic exposure. In that spirit I am honored to support the courageous members of the Flint community in fighting this toxic assault.
The decision by the unelected Emergency Manager in April, 2014 to change Flint’s drinking water supply to the polluted, foul Flint River led to community exposures resulting in infections and death due to Legionnaires disease. This was compounded by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s failure to properly treat the corrosive Flint River water, causing the lead inside the old pipes to dissolve into the drinking water, which reached the level of toxic waste in some homes. High-ranking officials at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) sought to actively silence and discredit Flint residents and scientists who worked to sound the alarm.
Betrayal of the public trust was not limited to the MDEQ. It is shocking that the EPA not only failed to protect the water quality and health of Flint residents. It actively suppressed the efforts of its own water expert, Miguel Del Toral, to alert residents and pressure the MDEQ to take urgent corrective action. Del Toral was taken off the case by the EPA.
The chain of abuse doesn’t stop with the agencies that violated their mandate to protect human health and clean water. Michigan Governor Snyder is responsible for appointing the emergency manager in the first place. This denied Flint its democratic right to self governance, and put the community at risk for harm by unaccountable and untransparent government whose top priority was budget cutting at any cost.
The Flint crisis is also the culmination of decades of bipartisan Congressional and state policies harming communities across the nation – namely deindustrialization, disinvestment and neglect of the lives of poor people and communities of color. The auto industry left Flint to rust: the city went from 80,000 union jobs in 1978 to 8,000 in 2006. Flint has a 40% poverty rate, 15% of homes are abandoned, and high violent crime rates accompany some of the most expensive water and sewer rates in the country (ranging from $150-$300 per month).
The federal government slashed spending on water and wastewater systems by 80% between 1977 and 2014. Revolving loan funds replaced grants to municipalities, causing water rates to double and triple across the country.
Flint deserves fresh clean water and democratic self governance. It also deserves agencies that are completely committed to protecting public health and the environment. Agencies at the state and national level have been incapacitated by the political power of the industries they are supposed to be regulating – through campaign contributions, revolving door appointments, and cuts to their budgets in the name of austerity and tax favors for the wealthy.
It’s time to clean up not only our environment and our water, but our public agencies and the corrupt, bipartisan political process that imperils our health, our environment, our economy, and our society at every level. It’s time for an America and a world that works for us all. I salute the people of Flint for leading the way.”