In his first visit since the Flint, Michigan water crisis began two years ago, President Barack Obama met with community members and government officials to discuss the crisis and dispel some of the misconceptions that have circulated about the science and safety of the new filtered water.
Obama declared a state of emergency in Flint earlier this year after lead was found in the water. The unsafe drinking and washing water came from corroded iron pipes and lead plumbing that couldn’t withstand the increased levels of chloride flowing through them. Flint was using Detroit’s treated water in 2014, but switched to its own source from Lake Huron, using Flint River water while the transition was made. It was a move motivated by money that could have been avoided with proper water testing.
At a speech in front of 1,000 people at Flint Northwestern High School, Obama went off script and overtime to correct some of the false information spreading about the water crisis.
Obama not only assured Flint’s residents that the filters being distributed are safe for children over the age of six according to scientists he’s consulted at the federal level, but also drank some of that filtered water himself. He did so earlier today at an event as well, but with a persistent cough in his throat throughout the whole speech, this seemed less scripted.
The other misconception he set out to correct was one he’s admittedly personally passionate about — the expectations society sets for children.
In his conversation earlier in the day, the president said it was expressed to him that parents are worried their kids would be shackled with a health disadvantage for the rest of their lives. Obama took time to deny that notion and assure residents that his generation ingested lead, but they turned out fine.
“I’m sure somewhere when I was two years old I was taking a chip of paint, tasting it, and I got some lead. Or sometimes toys were painted with lead and you were chewing on it,” Obama said during his speech. “I say that not to make light of the situation, we know now what we didn’t know then, which is that it can cause problems if children get exposed to lead at elevated levels.”
He says that parents should take advantage of expanded medicaid in the state and have children checked for lead in their system, and that everyone needs to come together to fix the problem.
It was unclear what kind of action the president would take, given that it’s his final year in office and there’s a divided congress. Some had hoped he would set up a 9/11-style relief fund for residents. The Center For Global Policy Solutions in February even sent a letter to Governor Rick Snyder that proposed such a plan.
The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund was passed by congress to support first responders and families of the victims through billions of tax-free dollars that helped pay medical bills
Obama didn’t go that far and instead used the trip more to show solidarity with the residents and meet with the community and the officials that govern them.
The president landed in Air Force One just before noon as he met with Republican Governor Rick Snyder and Flint’s Democratic Mayor Karen Weaver, which underscored the tensions that still exist between the two parties.
Snyder opened the event at Flint Northwestern High School with an apology to the people of Flint and was audibly booed in the process, according to reporters at the scene.
“You didn’t create this problem, government failed you,” Snyder attempted to say over the vocal crowd that shouted back, “You did.”