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Flint Water Crisis: Not New, Not Only Flint, Not Going Away

February 9, 2016

Lead and Copper Poisoning in the United States

The Flint water crisis has finally gained national and international attention in recent months. UUSC, local affected communities, UUs, and civil society have worked on this issue since 2015. There are many underlying causes of the crisis. Advocates, including UUSC, are working together across Michigan to address these through public education and longer-term legal reform at the state and national level. Several groups are supporting litigation.

Underlying causes

  • Inadequate regulations for notice to households about toxic water spills
  • Water quality testing procedures that mask the levels of contamination in drinking water
  • Inadequate authority of the Environmental Protection Agency to step in and investigate sooner
  • The outdated and controversial 1991 lead and copper rule
  • Michigan policies that have driven the large, low-income, African American towns into bankruptcy and austerity measures by withholding tax revenues generated from the towns
  • No human-right-to-water protections and no protections against water shutoffs at the town, state, or national level

UUSC support to groups in Michigan

UUSC actively supports two partners — the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization (MWRO) and Michigan Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Network (MUUSJN) — working both on the Flint crisis and on larger statewide efforts to ensure the human to water in Michigan. These larger efforts include working to end the mass water shutoffs in Detroit and to advance legislation on the human right to water.

As Maureen Taylor, MWRO’s state chair, has said, “The next big hurdle is to get a water affordability plan instituted in and around Detroit, throughout the state of Michigan. That would not only validate our struggle, but it would put it into place in perpetuity an option for low-income families to be able to pay monthly water bills based on their income. It would eliminate the scourge of mass water shutoffs; it would take that off the table.” UUSC has worked with MWRO to organize testimony by affected communities at the state capital in support of the human-right-to-water bills being proposed. UUSC has also worked with MWRO to foster solidarity amongst affected communities in Detroit and Flint and raise visibility.

UUSC funds the MUUSJN to organize UUs, UU clergy and congregations, and other faiths to support affected communities’ efforts on the human right to water and sanitation in Michigan. This work has included supporting the creation of the Detroit Peoples Water Board interfaith working group and training clergy and churches on water justice issues.

Attorney Alice Jennings, the lead lawyer on the Lyda case, is working with Rep. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) and a group of bipartisan legislators and groups to bring forward a groundbreaking package of bills to change Michigan law. As part of this working group on legislative reform, UUSC is advocating for the bill package, which addresses Flint issues and others. Representative Chang is championing the legislation. UUSC also works with the Lyda Pro-Bono Lawyers Committee and the National Coalition on Legislation for Affordable Water on state- and national-level legislative strategies on affordability.

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