As readers of this blog know, I was an operator at the Flint Water Plant during the so called “water crisis” of 2014-2016. I find it interesting the vast amount of theories as to who is to blame even after all this time. Most tend to be a political or social opponent of whomever has come to a conclusion. I’ve seen collusion and conspiracy, racism, genocide, penny pinching or just plain ineptness as reasons. I won’t recite the details of the crisis or the timeline as all of that is readily available online if you seek it.
I only wish to point out that what the true cause was should be of concern to all because it can happen anywhere and affect anyone. The blame lies, as it always has, at the feet of the Flint Water Utilities management. Not because of money. Not because of the evil GOP Governor Snyder didn’t like Flint or black people. Not the EPA or the DEQ or the engineering firms that were contracted to provide technical guidance to the city. The people making the decisions at the utility level that were in charge of implementing them are at fault.
They had the studies at their disposal that recommended providing corrosion control. The EPA Lead and Copper Rule is widely known throughout the industry which dictates maintaining corrosion control even during testing done after a source water switch. These are certified water professionals who are trained in corrosion control. No rocket science involved. No reinventing the wheel. No large monetary investment. Treating water with orthophosphate merely involves a dosing pump and chemical supply tank along with a bit of piping, valves and an electrical source. Really simple stuff. Could be installed in a hot minute if needed. You’ll hear estimates of millions upon millions to bring the water plant into compliance. Let me remind you that the Flint Water Plant served as the backup supply should the Detroit water source ever be interrupted. That means turnkey ready so once again it was the responsibility of the city for not maintaining the plant over the years.
The point is that all the passing of the buck and assigning blame elsewhere is simply smoke and mirrors. The EPA and MDEQ provide regulatory guidance, technical guidance and regulatory enforcement. That doesn’t absolve the water utility of guilt. It is always their responsibility to do the right thing. We don’t have to wait for a regulatory agency to tell us to do the right thing. It is expected. It is the creed of every water plant operator to provide safe drinking water to the public. You should never knowingly do the wrong thing while awaiting clarification on rules, permitting or operating parameters.
This is important to every person because it is the same in many industries in which a service is provided to the public that directly impacts their health and well being. Responsibility must start at the bottom not at the top. The worker bees must bear their share of that responsibility and the any potential fallout from disregarding it. If we believe we can depend on the heavy hand of government to be our safety net we will see more and more events like the Flint water crisis emerge. However, in the case of Flint, the money is higher up. Class action suits and other litigation must pursue governing and regulatory agencies since that is where the cash cow resides. That isn’t meant to take anything away from the very real people and very real damage that has been done to their lives. Heck, I drank the water while I worked there and I won’t see a penny of any settlements.
So what is the takeaway? Protecting yourself and your interests remains your responsibility. Safety nets put in place by whoever are nice but never put your blind trust in them that all is well. Unfortunately we humans are an imperfect bunch and we make mistakes and will continue to do so. You may indeed be to blame for the Flint water crisis if you don’t take precautions to protect yourself no matter what the “experts” tell you.
Editors note – many people may potentially be harmed by this bloggers opinion as sunlight is a great disinfectant but can also burn the hell out of you