How Good Is Flint’s Water These Days?

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Last week a federal judge in Michigan ordered the state to deliver four cases of bottled water each week to families in Flint that need it. On Thursday, the state asked the judge to stay his order, arguing that the court order would “require a ‘Herculean effort’ equivalent to a large-scale military operation and cost the state at least $10.45 million a month, or $125 million annually.” This prompted a reader to ask me what was up. Is Flint’s water still unsafe to drink?

I haven’t checked in on Flint since June, so I figured maybe it was time for an update. I brought up the latest testing results and created a new data point for the past two months, and then added the data point to my old chart using the same metric as always. Here it is:

That’s…not bad.1 Using a different measure, it turns out that about 6 percent of Flint homes were over the EPA’s “action limit” of 15 ppb and 1 percent were way over. That’s not great, obviously, but not catastrophic either. The catch is that presumably these measurements were all taken with water filters in place, and the judge’s ruling applied only to homes without filters:

The city is not required to deliver water to residents whose homes have properly installed and working filters, are unoccupied or decline the service. Judge Lawson also ordered that officials provide information in multiple languages, including English, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic and Hmong, to residents about lead levels of city water and how to install filters that properly reduce the contamination.

….Flint had fought the request for deliveries of water, arguing that residents had sufficient access to clean water from distribution centers throughout Flint and at home using filters that the city provided. Judge Lawson disagreed. Residents struggled to properly install the filters because of language barriers, old age, cognitive barriers or a lack of necessary tools, the judge said. Others struggled to retrieve water even from the distribution centers.

I guess I’m a little puzzled. If Flint is getting good results even though lots of homes don’t have working filters, then its water is in pretty good shape and the judge might be overreacting. However, if it’s getting these results because most homes do have working filters, then the judge’s order wouldn’t be all that burdensome and it’s not clear why the state is fighting it. Perhaps someone with deeper knowledge of what’s going on will weigh in on this.

1There’s a broader measure of blood lead levels that looks oddly high, but the entire state of Michigan looks oddly high. I’m not sure what to make of it.

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WHO DOESN’T LOVE A POSITIVE STORY—OR TWO?

“Great journalism really does make a difference in this world: it can even save kids.”

That’s what a civil rights lawyer wrote to Julia Lurie, the day after her major investigation into a psychiatric hospital chain that uses foster children as “cash cows” published, letting her know he was using her findings that same day in a hearing to keep a child out of one of the facilities we investigated.

That’s awesome. As is the fact that Julia, who spent a full year reporting this challenging story, promptly heard from a Senate committee that will use her work in their own investigation of Universal Health Services. There’s no doubt her revelations will continue to have a big impact in the months and years to come.

Like another story about Mother Jones’ real-world impact.

This one, a multiyear investigation, published in 2021, exposed conditions in sugar work camps in the Dominican Republic owned by Central Romana—the conglomerate behind brands like C&H and Domino, whose product ends up in our Hershey bars and other sweets. A year ago, the Biden administration banned sugar imports from Central Romana. And just recently, we learned of a previously undisclosed investigation from the Department of Homeland Security, looking into working conditions at Central Romana. How big of a deal is this?

“This could be the first time a corporation would be held criminally liable for forced labor in their own supply chains,” according to a retired special agent we talked to.

Wow.

And it is only because Mother Jones is funded primarily by donations from readers that we can mount ambitious, yearlong—or more—investigations like these two stories that are making waves.

About that: It’s unfathomably hard in the news business right now, and we came up about $28,000 short during our recent fall fundraising campaign. We simply have to make that up soon to avoid falling further behind than can be made up for, or needing to somehow trim $1 million from our budget, like happened last year.

If you can, please support the reporting you get from Mother Jones—that exists to make a difference, not a profit—with a donation of any amount today. We need more donations than normal to come in from this specific blurb to help close our funding gap before it gets any bigger.

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