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Flint’s corrosive water sparks debate on US resource inequity

Flint’s corrosive water sparks debate on US resource inequity

Rev. Dr Susan Henry-Crowe in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem. © WCC/Peter Kenny

03 March 2016

The United States has the biggest economy on planet earth.

It is of great concern to Rev. Dr Susan Henry-Crowe, however, that such a moniker for her country does not always mean resources are available to the population in an equitable way.

“In the United States, the issue of water is becoming increasingly troubled. Solutions are very unclear at this point. Two years ago, there was a similar situation in West Virginia where it took weeks and months to clear up,” she says.

Henry-Crowe is general secretary of the Washington DC-based General Board of Church & Society of The United Methodist Church. Her work includes addressing the equitable and just use of the resources God provides on earth.

Speaking from Beit Jala near Bethlehem in the Holy Land, she notes that ownership of water and access to it have started to become a struggle in the United States.

Flint lies on the river bearing its name, some 106 kilometres (66 miles) northwest of Detroit and issues of poverty and race swirl in the debate about water usage in the city.

“After Flint, Mich., switched from purchasing water via Detroit to sourcing locally from the Flint River, residents began noticing a change in water quality,” wrote Jayde Lovell in Scientific American of 2 March.

In April 2014, Flint transferred its water supply from Lake Huron which was coming via Detroit to the Flint River.

The problem was compounded with the fact that anticorrosive measures were not implemented. After two independent studies, lead poisoning caused by the water was found in the area's population.

“Researchers estimated 4 percent of all Flint’s children five and under had elevated blood lead — a percentage almost double that seen before the switch to the Flint River water,” Lovell wrote.

With a community of 100,000 people, largely poor and minority, unable to drink from their taps, Flint is “one of the biggest environmental justice disasters I know,” says Paul Mohai, who studies environmental-justice issues at the University of Michigan.

The debate about just water use and Flint continues.

In a posting on her website on black history and Lent, Henry-Crowe writes, “Lent is the church's gift to us of time, in prayer and reflection, to consider God's offer of new life.”

She asks, “What corners of our heart need cleansing and rebirth?  What new life beckons us to become a witness for economic and racial justice in our own congregation and community?”

WCC campaign Seven Weeks for Water:

WCC Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace: