I suspect that many of you watched in amazement as President Barack Obama drank a sip of tap water while visiting Flint, MI earlier this month and told everyone that it’s OK. Sorry, Mr. President, but all’s not well in Flint. This publicity stunt is a slap in the face to so many people. Not only have thousands of people including young children and infants already been exposed to toxic levels of lead and other contaminants that will affect their health for years, but thousands of people in Flint are still drinking and using contaminated water.
Dr. Marc Edwards, a professor of engineering at Virginia Tech who has done an enormous amount of water testing in Flint released the latest testing results in April several weeks before Obama’s visit. These results showed lower levels of lead in the water, but lead levels were still above the action level set by Obama’s EPA. In a press release, Edwards stated that “People have to continue using bottled water and filters until further notice.” Furthermore, no one is testing the water for volatile organic compounds like trihalomethanes (THM), contaminants that result from adding chlorine to kill bacteria. Early in the Flint crisis, THMs and bacteria levels were found to be high, but once elevated lead was found in the water, testing for THMs and bacteria stopped.
Be clear, Obama’s publicity stunt was not about public health. It was not about good science or testing results that show that the water is safe to drink. Instead, it was about reassuring the public that all is well in Flint and that the government has everything under control. It was about avoiding taking responsibility and not holding those at the highest levels of government accountable for the mistakes that led to the disaster in Flint. It was about controlling the media and trying to convince the media to move on to the next hot button issue. If this succeeds, then we can expect to see more Flints in the future, because we will not have learned anything from this public health disaster.