FLINT - Building trades union volunteers from across the state - and across most of the union crafts - have been giving their time and talent to help provide relief to victims of the city's water system crisis.
To date, the culmination of that effort took place on Jan. 22, when about 60 building trades union members from around Michigan joined the National Guard, Michigan State Police and Red Cross in helping to distribute some 25 semi-tractor loads of bottled water. A number of building trades volunteers used their own vehicles to make the deliveries. Other union members from UA Local 370 were also out that day, continuing to distribute water bottles and install water filters and filter cartridges on the faucets of Flint residents.
"Among our union members, it's what we do, we band together to help when there's a need," said Mike Lynch, president of the Genesee-Lapeer-Shiawassee Building Trades Council, at the effort's gathering point at the Genesee County Building. "This is a humanitarian effort. We have people out here on their own time, with their own vehicles using their own fuel. A lot of people we're helping can't drink their own water, and have no car, no resources to go out and get bottled water or a filter."
The origins of the water crisis and the resulting direction not to drink the city's water have been well documented in the national media in recent weeks. Flint's water system became contaminated when the city, under a state-imposed city manager appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder, opted to save costs by having the city stop getting water from the City of Detroit's system in favor of tapping into the Flint River.
The river water is corrosive, however, and its presence began the leaching of lead and other contaminants into peoples' faucets. Proper corrosion control chemicals were not introduced into the system at the Flint Water Treatment Plant under a plan that was cleared by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Flint's system has since been reconnected to Detroit's water, but the damage has been done to the pipes, and it is unknown when it will be safe to drink from the taps again. Top officials at the DEQ have been fired, and a regional director of the federal Environmental Protection Agency resigned in connection with the case.
Gov. Rick Snyder apologized to the people of Flint for the state's role in the crisis, and asked the state Legislature for $28 million in emergency funding. "Terrible decisions were made," Snyder said.
Lynch, who is also a Genesee County Commissioner said of the volunteer efforts, "we know what we're doing isn't a permanent fix, but at this point, it's about all we can do. What we're seeing here is a disaster, an absolute tragedy." Lynch pointed out that the thousands of lead filters cartridges that are being installed will likely end up contaminating a landfill after they are used up.
Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 370-Flint Business Manager Harold Harrington said the box containing the faucet-mounted filters say they filter lead, but the devices only filter 100 gallons of water before they need replacement cartridges. And, he said about 10 percent of the faucets they encounter cannot accept the filters, so in those cases they're replacing the entire faucet.
Lead poisoning, especially in young people, is known to cause a variety of serious health problems, including headaches, stomach pain, behavioral problems and irreversible negative impacts on a child's developing brain.
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a Hurley Medical Center doctor whose work helped expose the Flint lead crisis, said at a news conference that money must be diverted to Flint for funding educational and health care needs. "This is something we need to invest in now, so we don't have to pay those long-term costs," she said.