U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D–Flint) has introduced two bills aimed toward helping the community of Flint and preventing similar health effects in the future.
The Flint water crisis began in April 2014 when the city switched from Detroit city water to Flint River water. The water from the Flint River had a much higher corrosive quality than the Detroit water which allowed lead from the pipes to contaminate the water. Following the switch, citizens began reporting adverse health effects, but the city didn’t switch back to Detroit water until October 2015.
State Sen. Jim Ananich (D–Flint) said he thought it is primarily the responsibility of the state to help the citizens of Flint, but any additional aid is appreciated. The state legislature recently approved a nearly $28 million dollar request from Gov. Rick Snyder (R) to fund efforts in Flint.
“This is a state failure and the state needs to fix it, that is pretty widely acknowledged,” Ananich said. “But the support from the federal government and all across the country is really nice to see.”
Kildee’s “Families of Flint Act” is a comprehensive bill aimed at providing long-term funding for infrastructure improvements and developmental care for affected children.
In an interview Sunday, Kildee said fixing the damaged pipes in Flint is the first major component of the bill.
“One part is to pay for significant improvements to Flint’s water system, so the damage that was done by the highly corrosive water will be a temporary problem, and Flint will have a water system it can count on for years,” he said.
Sharon Swindell, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University, said lead poisoning in children is one of the most salient health concerns from the crisis because it can lead to developmental issues.
“There is no safe level of lead in a person’s body,” Swindell said. “Children, who have a lot of brain growth and development in the first six years, are vulnerable to cognitive and developmental effects.”
Kildee said the more long-term focus of the bill involves ensuring affected children receive the necessary support to overcome any issues in the years to come.
“A big part of what the bill would pay for is the educational, nutritional, behavioral needs of people who have been affected by lead poisoning, especially children,” Kildee said.
As part of the bill, the state would be required to match every dollar of federal funding with state funds. This year, the state has approximately $575 million in lapse funds — leftover money at the end of the fiscal year. Snyder is currently drafting a recommendation for how to appropriate these funds.
Kildee said due to the state’s budget surplus this year, he believes the matching mechanism is feasible for the state.
“The state actually has the money right now,” he said. “This year they had a budget surplus. I think that is a perfectly good source of money for them. The state has no excuse for what they did to Flint and for not helping Flint because they have money.”
Kildee says he expects to see resistance from other groups in Congress, but still hopes the bill will pass.
“This is going to be very difficult to get through,” he said. “I am very realistic about that. In a perfect world everyone in Congress would recognize that this is the kind of investment we need, but this is not a perfect world.”
Kildee’s second bill, a bipartisan effort co-sponsored by the entire Michigan congressional delegation, is aimed at giving the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency more power to prevent crises like Flint in the future.
Under the current act governing notice of water contamination, the Safe Water Drinking Act, it is not entirely clear whether the EPA has the authority and obligation to notify the public if they find contamination in the water supply. Federal law mandates that the state is responsible for enforcing the Act — in the case of Flint, the EPA only notified the state of their findings of contamination, not the public.
Kildee said had his law been in place and the EPA able to notify the public, the crisis could have been uncovered months earlier.
“As soon as the first evidence of that problem showed up we all would have known about it,” he said. “Instead of 14 months before this became public, it would have been just half that time.”
The bill aims to clarify existing laws and give the EPA direct authority and responsibility to notify the citizens of an affected area if the state does not do so in a timely manner.
David Uhlmann, professor of environmental and criminal law, said the bill should help prevent crises like Flint in the future.
“The Flint drinking water crisis never should have happened,” he said. “The Michigan congressional delegation rightly wants to make sure that similar tragedies do not occur in the future. Earlier public notification would have helped in Flint and would be valuable in the future.”
Because the bill is co-sponsored by all 14 of Michigan’s representatives, which includes multiple Republicans, Kildee said he does not expect to encounter many issues pushing it through Congress.
“We have everybody who serves on Congress in the state of Michigan as cosponsors,” he said. “It is very bipartisan. We should be able to have some success.”