By now, everyone ought to be aware of the public health crisis in Flint, Michigan. To make a long story short, Flint was a town on the brink of financial ruin. The good Governor Rick Snyder installed an unelected “emergency manager” to run the town (rather than instilling the duty to local politicians) and find places to cut costs. One of the ways the emergency manager found to cut costs was to switch the town’s water supply. Thus, Flint went from buying water from Detroit to drawing water from the Flint River.
The Flint River has different water chemistry than the Detroit supply. It’s a well-known fact and can be easily corrected by adding phosphates to the water, but continuing on their budget-cut warpath, the emergency manager neglected to correct the water’s chemistry. Consequently, the Flint River’s water caused the city’s lead pipes to corrode. Lead leached into the water supply, poisoning kids and causing a major health crisis on account of how lead is extremely toxic, resulting in developmental difficulties in children. It is nearly also nearly impossible to remove from the body, making treatment extremely difficult. Lead poisoning can even be passed down through generations from mother to child.
These are all facts. Indisputable. Immutable. Painstakingly worked out and studied by a team from Virginia Tech and the Hurley Medical Center in Flint, who found elevated levels of lead in children in the area since 2014, when the water supply was switched over with no democratic input.
An official for Oakland County, just south of Flint, Lewis Brooks Patterson, disagreed with these facts, since, anecdotally, he doesn’t have lead poisoning from drinking the water. He said as much at a speech to the Detroit Economic Club at a luncheon, and was promptly fired from his position as a contributing writer at Inside Michigan Politics, a statewide political newsletter. (Though, notably, he is still a county executive.)
It’s nice to see some accountability in this situation. Once Patterson was found to be blatantly misstating facts, and making statements which endanger public health and safety, he was removed from the public forum. Free speech, as we know, has limits. The classic example of yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater holds, though this might be likened more to yelling “No fire!” in a theater already up in flames.
So why, then, do we tolerate other blatant lies and misstatements of fact by our politicians? The scientific evidence behind Flint’s water supply being poisonous is no less reliable, than, say, science indicating that humans contribute to climate change, or that 2 degrees Celsius of total warming will be disastrous for the planet. Congressmen come in and say that, anecdotally, there’s snow outside, therefore the climate can’t change. See a parallel?
Demand more accountability for your elected official’s statements. Or, in the case of Flint, just hope your state-appointed emergency manager can be held accountable.