17 september 2015: about the water

WARNING: DO NOT READ THIS IF YOU THINK FAITH IS MOSTLY ABOUT BLUEBERRY MOMENTS. 

Because it is about lead, again. I really hope you’re well plugged into social media, and not depending on the “regular” news outlets for info on the water. I certainly haven’t seen every report from the mainstream, but in recent weeks, I’ve read or heard (even from Michigan Radio!) that the water is passing tests, that the governor is doing all he can, that our poisoned water is really just something that could happen anywhere, and everything is fine. Even the language they use suggests a benign event: this “happened to us” rather than “was done to us.” Hear the difference? 

And the stories that tell some of the reality don’t tell the whole truth; and besides the obvious conflicts in facts, “safe” couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Woodside’s Water Committee is paying attention, and we are thankful for their vigilance. This Tuesday, there was a town hall meeting with local activists and Dr. Marc Edwards, professor at Virginia Tech who is heading an independent study of Flint’s water problems. Some pertinent info from that meeting follows, from a report by Curt Guyette, an investigative reporter for the ACLU. (Our thanks to Karen Eaton, for distilling it.) 

As the result of its findings, the Virginia Tech team, contrary to assertions by the city and state that Flint’s water is safe to drink, is recommending that tap water be used for cooking or drinking ONLY if the water passes through a filter certified to remove lead. Absent such filtration, they recommend residents flush their waterlines for five minutes at a high flow rate every time before using. “We do not issue this warning lightly, and note that our concern is based on several lines of evidence,” said study leaders. 

The researchers also are demanding answers as to why their testing has revealed a situation much worse than the city and state claim, especially given that the city supposedly targeted only high-risk homes. 

As they state on the project’s website: “In our experience, following the EPA site selection criteria targeting homes with the highest risk for lead, the MDEQ sampling should have found much worse results than our sampling. Instead, MDEQ is asserting that the lead levels in Flint are much lower. Hence, we call on the U.S. EPA and others, to conduct a detailed audit of the 2014 and 2015 LCR sampling round overseen by MDEQ in Flint, to determine if it was conducted consistent with the requirements of the law.” 

There is so much so wrong with this story, so many aspects of the situation to fear. Karen, with a lifelong devotion to the development of children, notes this: “One of the biggest concerns … that has particular alarm for me is the risk to young children drinking Flint water without filter or flushing. The highest risk is to those infants that are receiving formula mixed with water. Lead is very harmful to these young ones.” 

Filtering and flushing are costly to families, in both time and money. I share her concern. But I also am disgusted with our leaders, who seem content to tell us what isn’t true, content to let this majority-black, high-poverty city, already so screwed by corporate and political self-dealings, consume poisoned water. 

And it begs the question: what would Jesus do? What would Amos or Isaiah or Jeremiah say or do, confronted with the indications that our leaders are lying to us, and even at best are obfuscating? What would the prophets do? we have to ask. Which then must lead to the question: what is the church called to do? 

We are being poisoned. Our neighbors are being poisoned. The children around us are being led by the hand into a future of learning disabilities and diminished capacity, assuming they reach adulthood. Our vulnerable and older adults are facing heart problems, kidney issues, and high blood pressure from the lead — all of which can lead to death. 

When city and state leaders turn their backs on the common good, as they have done, what is the job of church? 

It begins with speaking the truth out loud. But then what? 

With you on a difficult journey, 

pastor deb