But no, this actually happened in what is known as the richest and most prosperous nation in the world, the United States of America in the town of Flint, in Michigan.
As you all may or may not know in April 2014, Flint officials switched the water supply of the town of Flint from the City of Detroit water supply to the polluted Flint River in order to save money since their contract had expired. This was originally intended to be a temporary measure while a new pipeline was going to be built which would directly connect Flint to Lake Huron water. However, temporary ended up becoming almost a year and a half. Just a few months after the switch, residents noticed that the water coming out of their taps was brown in colour, smelled and tasted bad. People also got rashes or broke out in hives after drinking the water. When they expressed their concerns, the government dismissed them claiming that the water was safe to drink. However, at various points in 2014, after detecting the presence of E. Coli, state authorities issued boil water advisories and children and the elderly were told to avoid drinking the tap water temporarily. To tackle the bacteria, more chlorine was added leading to the presence of trihalomethanes, a carcinogenic by-product of chlorine. This was not even the worst of Flint's woes. The lead poisoning was a result of a failure to use an anti-corrosion additive, which municipal tap water is usually treated with to stop it from corroding older plumbing systems made of lead and iron. This additive was not very expensive, about $100 a day for three months, but the government refused to put it in as their top priority was to balance the books at all costs. The result of this negligence was that each passing day, the water, which was significantly more corrosive than the city's previous supply rusted the city's aging pipelines causing heavy metals such as lead, a neurotoxin and iron to leach into the water supply. Now, the state must pay for this penny-wise-pound-foolish act as it could take over $1.5 billion to fix the problem in addition to the irreversible damage it has done to Flint's residents which can never be fixed. On top of that, 10 people died in an outbreak of Leigonnaires disease, a form of pneumonia from water-borne bacteria probably coming from the contaminated water.
Last February, the EPA investigated the water and found high levels of lead but they did not take any action to rectify the solution, choosing to keep quiet about it instead. The government kept ignoring Flint's concerns until researchers from Virginia Tech found elevated levels of lead in the water and a well known local paediatrician found high levels of lead in kids' blood and was treating patients for rashes and hair loss, common symptoms of lead poisoning. In October, the water supply was switched back to Detroit Water but the damage had been done. Lead pipes that supply the water in the city and in people's homes had corroded so much, there would still be lead leaching in the water. On Nov 13, 2015 Flint residents filed a class-action lawsuit against Michigan governor Rick Snyder and the chiefs of staff for the health problems caused by the water crisis. Finally, in January of this year, Governor Snyder admitted that the water was unsafe to drink, declared a state of emergency and gave an official apology. Since then, the government, the National Guard and charities have been distributing bottled water and water filters to residents. The FBI is investigating all parties responsible and a plan has been put into place to upgrade the water infrastructure. President Obama as well as Presidential Candidates Hilary Clinton and Ted Cruz have condemned Governor Snyder's actions. Many of Flint's residents are calling for his resignation and so has Bernie Sanders. Filmmaker Michael Moore, born and raised in Flint has created a petition calling for his arrest.
However, nothing can undo the irreversible damage done from these negligent, careless and unremorseful decisions by all levels of government, whether it's Flint City authorities, the State of Michigan and Governor Snyder or the EPA and the Federal Government. 10 people died, Flint's residents have dangerous levels of lead in their bodies which has terrible reprecussions especially for infants and children whose brains are developing. It can lead to developmental delays, brain damage, lowered IQ, and learning disabilities which the children of Flint will have to suffer for the rest of their lives all because of the recklessness and lack of accountability of their government who chose to knowingly poison them.
The bigger question, though is how this was allowed to happen for so long. Many say that it is a case of environmental racism as Flint is a city with a poor and predominantly black population. I agree to a certain extent because in this case, the government did marginalize their voices instead of listening to their concerns and they trampled over vulnerable members of society for their own gains. However, I have to disagree because it wasn't just black people affected, everyone in Flint was affected by it and now has to suffer the consequences.
In the end, their decisions cost them a lot more than they thought they could save not only in more financial loss for this already struggling city and state but in the people who have gotten sick and died and the notion that Flint's residents can no longer trust their government to take care of them and provide the basic of life's necessities - safe, clean drinking water. The good news is, the country has mobilized to help and as of July 2016, the tap water has been declared safe to drink when filtered correctly, by the EPA. This incident shows the true cost of corruption and greed as well as exposing the fact that governments need to be held more accountable for their actions. In addition, it opens our eyes to the fact that lack of clean, safe water is not just an issue in far-off third world countries, but it is an issue right here in North America. Unfortunately, this is not the only isolated case. In 2000, thousands of people got sick in Walkerton, Ontario, Canada as a result of E.Coli bacteria in the water supply and the government's failure to admit to citizens that their water was contaminated. Even today, many First Nation's reserves across Canada are under boil water advisory due to contaminants in the water. Stay tuned for more on that next month.