January 22, 2016 — Reprinted with permission
Mom moved my two sisters and me to the appropriately named town of Flushing on the outskirts of Flint, Michigan, in 1980.
I moved away after graduating from Flint’s Catholic high school.
The jobs kept moving away too.
To me, Flint became a self-deprecating anecdote.
Some 30 years later, I can’t say I was surprised when my high school best friend, Gordon Young, a chronicler of Flint’s slide in his book Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City, texted me that Flint, now in receivership and run by an apparatchik appointed by the austerity-mad GOP governor, was switching over from the Great Lakes to the Flint River for its drinking water.
All to save some bucks. I thought this was preposterous.
Only in Flint – a city that makes Youngstown, Ohio, look like Miami – could this be a viable solution. I texted back: “Man, that seems like a bad idea.” I had no clue.
By the fall of 2015, news began coming out of Flint about undrinkable water, kids getting sick and a stonewalling state government.
I headed back to Flint for a week.
I saw orange water running from a hydrant.
I read FOIA’d e-mails that prove the city and state decided not to chemically treat Flint’s water, something required in every town, village and city in America.
There was the woman whose water tested for lead at a toxic-waste level.
This was after officials told her she was nuts, even though her daughter lost chunks of her hair in the shower, while her four-year-old son remained dangerously underweight and his skin became covered in red splotches any time it was exposed to the water.
And I met a pediatrician who discovered that the lead levels of kids under five in Flint were dangerously elevated.
She became physically ill when a state official called her deluded.
I was told that the few million dollars saved by the city on Flint water would now cost hundreds of millions to repair ruined pipes.
Recently, Michigan was forced to declare a state of emergency in Flint.
Some of the public servants involved have resigned.
Now, the feds and the state are investigating what one water expert calls one of the greatest American drinking-water disasters he’s ever seen.
In the coming months, we’ll know if those to blame were criminals or merely incompetent jackasses.
Flint doesn’t make me laugh anymore.
It makes me want to punch someone in the face.