Flint Lead Poisoning: The Anatomy of Government Failure

Sorry libs, its not government austerity but government that's the problem


In the simple morality tale that is modern mainstream liberalism, government spending leads to good things and

Water Pollution
Faisal Akram Ether via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

cutting government spending leads to bad things. So when news broke that Flint, Michigan's, water system was laced with lead and may have poisoned up to 2 percent of city residents, including 23 children, they already knew the cause: Spending cuts imposed on the city by the state emergency manager.

The Detroit Free Press lectured Governor Rick Snyder, the villain in liberal central casting who appointed the manager, thusly: "To lead the state, a balanced budget is not sufficient…He has got to see people, not sums, as the bottom line of the state balance sheet." Meanwhile, a headline in Vox declared, "Flint, Michigan, tried to save money on water. Now its children have food lead poisoning." And The Week's Ryan Cooper accused Flint of poisoning its own residents to save a few bucks. "This is a stark demonstration of austerity's false economy."

A dissection of the events, however, suggests that it isn't government austerity that  is responsible for the debacle but the government itself. And at every level: local, state, federal, elected officials, administrative agencies, you name it, I note in my column at The Week.

Here's how:

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the state agency that is responsible for implementing federal EPA environmental standards and ensure water standards, ignored citizen concerns that there was something wrong with the water they were getting from the new Flint River water system. The city had temporarily switched to this system after deciding against renewing a 30-year contract with its existing supplier, the Detroit Water and Sewage Department that wanted Flint to pay higher rates and more stranded costs. (This was like asking someone who is struggling to prevent the roof on his/her house from collapsing to pay for a lavish home insurance policy.)

The EPA allowed the DEQ to perform a faulty test to measure water quality that totally failed to catch the problem. That's not all that the EPA did wrong, however. Even after it realized that the DEQ wasn't taking a simple step necessary to prevent lead poisoning – namely adding phosphorous – it did absolutely nothing. It didn't go public with this information; it didn't warn residents that they should take steps to protect themselves. It basically fiddled as Flint residents were getting poisoned. What's even more infuriating? It would have cost less than $50,000 annually to add the phosphorous.

The local mayor was even worse than the EPA. If the EPA passively allowed residents to poison themselves, the mayor actively encouraged them to do so. He told them that there was nothing wrong with the water and they'd be wasting their "precious" money by buying bottled water.  This, incidentally, was after GM stopped using this water because it was corroding auto parts.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services dismissed tests showing a spike in lead levels in blood tests of local residents after the switch to Flint River as a "seasonal anomaly."

All of this shows, I note in my column at The Week, the Flint debacle is not the fault of government austerity — but government incompetence, negligence, and rank stupidity on the very part of those agencies that are entrusted with public health. "And there is no amount of government spending that can fix that."

Go here to read the whole thing.