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People Are Dying in Flint and All Signs Point to the Water

Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse in Flint.

About 200 activists protested outside Flint City Hall on January 8th against Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s inadequate handling of the city’s water crisis. Many activists called for Rick Snyder to resign or face criminal charges for his role in the administration that switched the water source for the city to the Flint River, then stayed silent when presented with evidence that the new water had toxic levels of lead in the water — over 900 times the EPA limit according to some estimates.

Now, a new fear has risen among residents of Flint, Michigan, who have been dealing with lead tainted water since 2014. A recent rise of Legionella or “Legionnaires’ Disease” has produced 87 cases of the disease, 10 of which were fatal in Genesee County.

The rare disease has been linked to poor management of water filtration systems and infrastructure, and the rise in cases came after Genesee County switched from Lake Huron to the Flint River for the city’s water supply. The money-saving move initially led to a spike of lead poisoning in children.

Dr. Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech researcher who has been researching Flint’s water crisis said he can’t definitively link the outbreak to the Flint River, but that there is a clear association, and the increase of cases after the Flint River was tapped as Genesee’s main water source is dramatic. He also said the failure of the city to properly treat Flint River water could have resulted in the outbreak. In 47 percent of cases, the infected person’s water source was from the Flint River.

Legionella isn’t transferred by person to person contact, but by the inhalation of microscopic water drops. After infection, it is a serious bacterial lung condition that can lead to pneumonia-like symptoms and death if not treated.

It’s usually detected in natural bodies of water but can multiply rapidly if it contaminates artificial water supply systems. Larger buildings are more vulnerable to Legionella, because small amounts of the rare bacteria can spread quickly through complex water supply systems.  Twelve New Yorkers were killed and 127 were left ill from an outbreak of Legionella in the South Bronx in August when the bacteria was discovered at 14 sites, including water cooling towers and hot water distribution systems.

The water in Flint is virtually unusable without a filter, and people are hesitant to use it even with one. Residents are concerned because on top of the fact that they can’t drink their water because of lead contamination, they can’t shower or turn on their faucets without worrying about breathing in potentially deadly microscopic bacteria.

In a local media report from Flint, resident Lavonda Baker described her fears about the water and what it’s doing to her body. She said “I’m 57-years-old and ever since I have been drinking it, I’ve been getting sick and getting spots all on my arms,” and I’m constantly buying water and buying water and buying water and it’s bad you have to do it and we have to drink it.”

This is a tragic and inexcusable development in Flint’s already dire water crisis. The fact that the local authorities have allowed two years of lead poisoning and now a severe bacterial outbreak to plague the city is beyond alarming. The Detroit water crisis is nothing less than biological and chemical class war against the people of Flint.

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