Collapse of Trust in Government Keeps Many in Flint from Drinking Safe Water

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By Flintmichigan (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

October 8, 2016; New York Times

Flint’s water has poisoned more than its children—it’s poisoned its citizens’ faith in government. What happens to civil society when trust breaks down?

“Scientifically, the Flint tap water treated by the lead filters is currently as safe, or safer, than tap water in other U.S. cities,” Marc Edwards, a scientist from Virginia Tech who helped expose lead contamination in Flint, said in an email. “But the loss of trust is so profound, and the sense of betrayal so complete—some Flint residents will never consume or bathe in tap water again. Given their personal experiences, I would not call that unreasonable.”

The state environmental authority for Michigan assures Flint residents that 90 percent of the water is safe. The U.S. Senate just approved legislation to spend $270 million to further aid the residents of Flint and other communities that have experienced led-contaminated water. But is this commitment too late for the residents of Flint who were sickened over two years because of government equivocation and failures at every level? According to a poll taken last June, 70 percent of Flint residents “do not trust local and state government assurances that the city’s water supply is safe to drink.”

According to the Pew Research Center, trust in the federal government is at historically low levels: “Only 19 percent of Americans today say they can trust the government in Washington to do what is right “just about always” (3 percent) or “most of the time” (16 percent).”

Huge sums of money are now being spent to replace the pipes leading to Flint homes, a thousand of them to be installed before winter. Can the nonprofit sector serve a role in helping Flint to at least trust the science?—James Schaffer