Residents of Flint, Michigan, have been facing a water crisis since 2014, caused by poor decision-making by state government regarding the source and treatment of Flint's drinking water. The crisis calls into question citizens' rights to clean water and how our natural resources are allocated across racial and income lines.
In 2014, in order to save money, managers for the state of Michigan made the decision to switch the source of Flint, Michigan's drinking water from the glacial, spring-fed waters of Lake Huron to the polluted Flint River. This key decision, along with the failure to adequately treat that water or to respond to public concerns about water safety, led to one of the worst public health crises of our time.
In a two-year period, twelve people have died from Legionnaires' Disease in Genesee County in Flint, most likely caused by bacteria from the Flint River.* Other health issues connected to drinking and bathing in the water include painful rashes, hair loss, and lead poisoning, which can cause irreversible brain damage, especially for children and unborn fetuses.
While Flint has switched back to its historical water source, damage to pipes from inadequately treated river water continues to cause lead to leach into the city's water. Flint officially entered a state of emergency in January of 2016, which prompted federal funding to supply residents with filters and bottled water for drinking and bathing. Plans are underway to replace existing, failing, pipes that deliver water to Flint homes.
At one time, Flint was a thriving industrial city—home to General Motors (GM), one of America's giant automobile manufacturers. In the 1980s, GM downsized its Flint operations, and unemployment skyrocketed, worsening the poverty and racial segregation that had already affected the area. Today, residents of Flint, Michigan, are predominantly African-American, with 40% living in poverty, according to NPR.** An investigation into the water crisis, ordered by Governor Rick Snyder, identified the crisis as an example of "environmental injustice," concluding that race and the poverty of residents played a factor in government response to public concerns, according to the The New York Times.***
Photographer Matt Black, in his photo essay, "The Fall of Flint," portrays the town of Flint and its residents as they persevere through the water crisis. These photographs are part of Black's commitment to documenting poverty across the United States. The work is part of a larger series titled, "The Geography of Poverty," which highlights individuals and communities whose poverty rate exceeds 20 percent.
Connections to National Standards
Common Core English Language Arts. SL.9-10.5 and SL.11-12.5. Make use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understandings of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest.
College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies. D2.Geo.2.9-12. Use maps, satellite images, photographs, and other representations to explain relationships between the locations of places and regions and their political, cultural, and economic dynamics.
College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies. D2.Civ.10.9-12. Analyze the impact and the appropriate roles of personal interests and perspectives on the application of civic virtues, democratic principles, constitutional rights, and human rights.
Next Generation Science Standards. HS-ETS1-2. Design a solution to a complex real-world problem by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable problems that can be solved through engineering.