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Flint’s great future … If

Lee A. Daniels

The danger facing the residents of Flint, Michigan is heartbreaking and extraordinary — a tale seemingly out of 18th-century Europe, or scattered parts of today’s less-developed nations rather than the 21st-century United States of America.

For more than a year water flowing from the city’s ageing, corroded pipes subjected apparently many of its 100,000 residents to a toxic mix of lead and other dangerous chemicals while state officials, intent on cutting governmental costs, ignored a growing chorus of warnings.

The lead and other toxins that contaminated Flint’s water-delivery system during that time represent a direct and long-lasting threat to residents’ physical and emotional health. Some have already experienced skin rashes and hair loss and other physical manifestations. Even more alarmingly, the effect on children’s intellectual development — on their speech patterns, motor skills, emotional stability and capacity to learn — could either show itself immediately or lay dormant for years.

Not every child in Flint will develop these problems. But how many will and how many won’t are at present unknowable. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician at Flint’s Hurley Medical Center and one of the first who warned of the dangers the state’s 2014 decision to use the polluted Flint River as the source of Flint’s water supply was having, said during the town hall forum held there last week by MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow that every child in Flint will have to be monitored their entire childhood for signs lead is damaging their health.

The need for that kind of effort suggests an additional way — the first being the apparent political mobilization of a large segment of Flint’s citizenry the Maddow forum made evident — the tragedy in Flint can be reversed.

Flint can have an extraordinary future — if the people of not just Flint but America as a whole compel the now deservedly-disgraced administration of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and the federal government to “flip the switch” on the governmental neglect that beleaguered city suffered.

The response of numerous celebrities and private-sector companies in supplying millions of bottles of water and other aid to Flint’s citizens and schools has helped the city and helped spread the word about the crisis.

Now, the federal and state of Michigan governments need, in concert with Flint’s citizens, to launch a comprehensive project to protect Flint’s adults and children from both the now-evident and the potential health effects of the state’s policy of deliberate neglect.

Some first steps have been taken.

They include the sacking or forced resignations of some of the officials who directly “managed” the state’s regime of indifference to the health of Flint residents; and the Michigan state legislature’s unanimous approval of Snyder’s request for an immediate $28 million in emergency state funds for Flint.

In addition, the Governor has asked the federal government to expand Medicaid to cover every Flint resident under the age of 21. And he’s appointed a commission of outside experts on children’s health, water quality, and civil engineering projects to suggest what needs to be done and monitor the multitude of city, state and federal actions that will be taken. State officials said the corrosion-control chemicals they added, finally, to Flint’s water system in recent months has made the water flowing from residents’ taps safe (although many question whether that’s true).

And, of course, huge issues now loom — about whether the entire pipe system should be replaced; and, even more important, what will be the shape, scope and cost of the health-care project that should be created to monitor, reduce and repair the physical and mental damage Flint residents have suffered and will suffer?

In fact, the possibilities here — of rebuilding part of a city’s infrastructure and of providing comprehensive health care to a large but very specific population — are enormously exciting. But, the crisis in Flint has already become a fiercely contested political issue, especially in this presidential election year.

So be it. Democrats and other Americans who care about governmental responsibility shouldn’t back down from pursuing still-murky questions about the Snyder administration’s actions that led to this humanitarian crisis. And they shouldn’t back down from demanding that Flint have all the money it needs to provide for the health care of the adults and children harmed by this man-made tragedy.

Lee A. Daniels’ collection of columns, “Race Forward: Facing America’s Racial Divide in 2014”, is available at www.amazon.com.