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Flint: It only gets worse

Jack Lessenberry

If this were the nineteenth century, people would compare life in Flint to the troubles of Job, the Old Testament hero who God allows to be tortured by the devil to test his faith.

We don’t use Biblical allusions as much as we used to, but there’s no question that for Flint, the agony just keeps increasing. Actually, it’s more correct to say that we keep discovering more about what’s been happening.

Yesterday, for example, we learned  there was a huge spike in cases of Legionnaires’ Disease for months after the city was switched over to Flint River water, a liquid so corrosive it leached lead out of old pipes, poisoning children.

"This time, it was clear that Governor Rick Snyder has learned something from the state's disastrous attempts to cover up the lead poisoning scandal."

This time, it was clear that Governor Rick Snyder has learned something from the state’s disastrous attempts to cover up the lead poisoning scandal. He almost immediately held a press conference to lay out what he knew.

“We want to make sure we shared this information as soon as it became available to me,” a clearly chastened governor said. 

Snyder added that it was too soon to say definitively that the river water was responsible, noting “from a scientific or medical point of view, I don’t believe that determination can be made today.”

That drew all sorts of nasty responses on the nternet. But for once, I think the governor deserves defending.

We don’t in fact know, though the correlation certainly seems like more than coincidence. And Marc Edwards, the researcher from Virginia Tech who played a key role in uncovering the lead poisoning, certainly suspects the river water was responsible.

He was quoted yesterday as saying “our hypothesis is that something about the Flint River and corrosion control,” combined with Flint’s older plumbing system, created an environment where the Legionnaires’ bacteria flourished.

"For once, I think the governor deserves defending."

Ten people eventually died.

The number of cases is back to normal now, but for the long-battered community of Flint, it was just one more blow falling on a bruise.

There’s been a whole lot written about the state’s inaction in the face of this crisis.

What is almost as dismaying is the veiled and not-so-veiled classist and racist attitudes on the part of a lot of people. They anonymously post things like “they just want the state to give them money,” and hint that these mostly poor and mostly black people would just waste it.

We saw a more genteel reflection of that attitude yesterday from State Representative Al Pscholka, a Republican who chairs the House Appropriations Committee.

Pscholka is from Berrien County, a long way from Flint.

Yesterday, he bizarrely claimed Flint itself and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency were partly to blame for all this. According to the Detroit Free Press, he said

“I know there’s a frenzy to just open the wallet and spend some money, and I think we need to be a little more cautious.”

President Kennedy used to say “better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference."

Sadly, we live too much in an era of ice and indifference today.

The results are on display in Flint.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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