Every day after work, Ariana Hawk drives to a water distribution center in Flint, Michigan, where the city provides free bottled water to its residents.
Hawk’s 4-year-old son, Sincere Smith, became the poster child for Flint’s water crisis when his face, pocked by lead-poisoning scars, appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in 2016.
His mother says she still only uses bottled water when she bathes her five children and prepares food. She continues this practice even though the state of Michigan has declared the water is safe to drink, but only if filtered because not all of the lead-affected pipes have been replaced.
“Governor Snyder say that we need to use that filter because our water is safe,” Hawk says. “Our water is not safe.”
Two years after a state of emergency was declared because of lead-poisoned water, many in Flint, like Hawk, still don’t believe the water is safe.
“Some people do not trust regardless of what scientific data shows,” says Sheryl Thompson of the Flint Department of Health and Human Services.
“I even had my pipes redone,” says Flint resident Clades Beal, “but the water is still looking the same.”
Pregnant women and people younger than 21 who drank Flint water are now eligible for special health care coverage paid for by the government. So far, there is no way to reverse the effects of lead poisoning.
“In children, we are worried about decreased IQ points, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder as well as other cognitive impairment,” says Nathaniel DeNicola, MD of George Washington University. “For children, there is not really a way to reverse those effects, but with proper diet, nutrition, counseling, decrease of the exposures, you can help to not make that adverse effects as impactful.”
And while Flint residents continue to receive help, including bags of food, the government works on replacing lead pipes, which was made possible by a settlement from a $97 million lawsuit brought the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“Right now we are in the implementation of the settlement, of the agreement,” says Dimple Chaudhary of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We were able to get this great agreement. Again recognizing that there is still so much to do in Flint but this piece of it is a good step forward.”
“The state who in my opinion is liable and really should step up so we can get this mass construction,” says Eric Mays, a Flint City councilman. “It should be a national infrastructure project.”
Meanwhile, Flint residents continue their daily battle for clean water.
“That is not fair to the citizens,” Hawk says. “That is not fair to these kids.”