Protestors march along Saginaw Street
demanding clean water outside of Flint
City Hall in Flint, Mich. on Wednesday
Oct. 7, 2015. Christian Randolph | MLive.com
Summer is approaching quickly, and with it, warmer weather. Generally this is a pleasant transition from a cold winter, but the residents of Flint, Michigan may have a reason to dread the upcoming season. The transition to Spring may see an uptick in the number of cases of Legionnaires’ disease. Bacteria thrive in warmer water, and Flint has had a terrible problem with bacteria in the past year. Second to lead exposure, Legionella bacteria has been the most pressing issue during the Flint water crisis; over 80 people have contracted the disease and more than 10 people have died. The government of Flint has since changed the water source back to Lake Huron, but the damage has already been done. Corrosion in the pipes from the Flint River extricated dangerous chemicals and organisms and flushed them into the water systems of residents and businesses in the city.
Danger is still present even after remediation measures were taken. This doesn’t mean that contaminated water from the Flint River is still being pumped into the city; it means that some small cultures of Legionella trapped in the pipes of the city may proliferate and spread to potable water systems during warmer months in the year. Due to the complexity and scale of the water systems within cities, it is nearly impossible to fully police all of the pipes, so techniques such as hyper-chlorination of the entire system are used to create a safer environment. Flushing water systems with biocides is effective and generally kills most bacteria, but in many cases there are sections that don’t have continuous flow and allow the buildup of stagnant water. Inspectors can’t tear up every installment of pipe to check these stagnant areas, so the best option is to use the methods we have and focus on preventative measures for future residents.
Prevention is just as important as remediation. If we can stop a problem before it occurs then remediation is unnecessary. Prevention is a thankless job because it is much harder to see the results from prevention efforts than it is to see the results of remediation efforts. In a sense, if you hear no news, it means that prevention measures are working. It isn’t until an event occurs that prevention efforts get thrown into the spotlight. In the case of Flint, the switch from Lake Huron to the Flint River was an act that deliberately defied the preventative measures set in place by the government. That is why the Flint water crisis has had such a negative impact on people such as Governor Snyder. There has been a lot of finger pointing because it’s clear that the Flint water crisis was not the result of some force of nature, but instead an act of negligence by many levels of government. Preventative measures can stop occurrences that endanger millions of people, but they only work if we abide by their standards. When people get greedy, or don’t have the funds to make that happen, disasters happen.