It’s been nearly three weeks since I wrote about how an imperative to save money at all costs combined with gross incompetence to poison Flint’s children with lead. In (very) brief, the city of Flint decided to switch from buying water from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) to a new water source. Unfortunately, the pipeline from that water authority, which was going to draw water from Lake Huron, wasn’t scheduled to be completed until 2016. When DWSD learned that Flint was going to switch water sources, it gave a year’s notice that it was going to void its long term contract with Flint but expressed willingness to negotiate a short term contract to supply Flint until the new pipe was ready. As a result, in 2014 the emergency manager (an official that Michigan state law allows the government to appoint when a “financial emergency” is declared in a local government) decided to temporarily switch over to Flint River water as a supply. Unfortunately, Flint River water is much more corrosive than Lake Huron water (which is what DWSD supplies) and the Flint water department didn’t treat it to prevent it from corroding old pipes.

As a result, the water leached lead from the pipes and pipe joints, leading to high levels of lead in many Flint homes and an doubling of the number of children with elevated blood lead levels. If you want details, check out my prior post and a recent post by a well-known friend of the blog. I won’t get into the political weeds again, except to mention that I do think the emergency manager law had a lot to do with the failure of the state to act sooner. Although local governments can and do screw up and there’s no guarantee that an elected city council wouldn’t have made the same initial decision, I bet that an elected city council would have felt a lot more pressure a lot earlier to do something when citizens started complaining about the brown water and the rashes it caused. The emergency manager and Governor Rick Snyder weren’t elected by the people of Flint, who were not the sort of people who would have voted for Snyder anyway.

In any case, I provide this background as a prelude to discussing what has to be the absolute dumbest post I’ve yet seen about the Flint water crisis. Oe thing that’s happened since the revelations of high lead levels in Flint water and the blood of too many Flint children, a predictable chorus of defense and denial has cropped up that has been trying to blame the crisis on the local government rather than the state or, in at least one case, deny that there even is a problem. Some have even tried to call the whole thing a hoax.

Enter David Mastio of USA TODAY, who wrote a truly brain dead op-ed on the Flint water crisis entitled Flint lead crisis getting a tad overdone. Get a load of this:

Now that the leaching of poisonous lead into the tap water of Flint, Mich., has been declared a national emergency, it might be time to dial back the panic just a notch (or two).

Flint’s 8,000 children have not had their lives destroyed. Jesse Jackson can roll up his crime tape. Michael Moore can go back to promoting his latest film. Taken as a whole, in fact, Flint’s kids are better off than the previous generations of Michigander kids in at least one important way. Even after Flint’s disaster, the city’s children have far less lead in their blood than their parents or grandparents did at the same age.

Yes, we don’t yet know how many children might have suffered permanent damage from exposure to high levels of lead, but that doesn’t mean that hundreds or thousands weren’t. It’s also a patently disingenuous argument, which Mastio continues:

In 2005, Michigan completed the years-long process of collecting 500,000 lead blood tests from children in the state under 6. Back then, 26% of kids tested — that’s more than one in four — had blood lead levels (5 micrograms per deciliter or greater) that would cause concern today. In the hardest hit parts of Flint now, only 10.6% of kids have such concerning levels of lead in their blood.

How can that be? While drinking water management in Flint has obviously been a mess in recent years, it’s a mess that comes amid one of the greatest public health and environmental triumphs in U.S. history.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data are clear. In the late 1970s, 88% of Americans ages 1 to 5 had at least 10 micrograms per deciliter of lead in their blood, or twice as much as today’s level of concern.

By the early 1990s, only 4.4% of children were exposed to so much lead. And year by year since then, according to more than 31 million blood tests compiled by the CDC just since 2005, lead has been steadily disappearing from American kids’ blood.

Basically, Mastio is arguing that because things were worse in the past, it’s not so bad that lead levels spiked after Flint was switched to Flint River water and that the number of children with elevated lead levels doubled. They tightened the standards! It used to be way worse than it is now! So there’s nothing much to worry about. Mastio knows that there has never been a safe blood level of lead established, such that public health officials believe there is no safe level, but, hey, cut the government a break. As Mastio says, we spent decades spewing lead into the air and coating our houses with it before we banned leaded gasoline and lead paint. Yes, and that was one of the most disastrous things we’ve ever done from an environmental and public health standpoint. For 60 years, we did spew lead into the air through auto emissions, and it caused real health problems. Yes, it’s true that, because leaded gasoline was finally banned in the 1980s, we are exposed to much less lead than we used to be, and that’s a good thing. That doesn’t mean that something that backtracks on that for a whole city is not that big a deal. It is.

Yet Mastio still tries to downplay the problem. First, he mentions that the percentage of children with elevated blood lead levels declined in three of Flint’s wards, as if that makes up for the tripling of the percentage of children with elevated lead levels in the other high risk wards and the lead contamination of Flint’s water is not that big a deal. (Excuse me, Mastio’s “putting the Flint water crisis into context,” that context being the implication that it’s not that big a deal.) I’ll give Mastio credit, though. He sure does know how to cherry pick. He zeroed in on one table in Hanna-Attisha’s paper like a laser.

Mastio’s next argument seeks to imply that Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha’s study overestimated how many children had elevated blood levels because some of the samples she examined used came from capillary blood instead of venous blood, which can overestimate the true serum lead level:

One reason for such widely divergent results in Flint, where the percentage of children with elevated blood lead levels tripled in one place while nearby the percentage of kids affected fell, may be that some of the test results stem from an inaccurate screening test far less reliable than the procedure recommended by the CDC as the gold standard.

According to officials in the CDC’s lead program, “capillary” test errors overestimate the amount of lead in a child’s blood. Test results that show blood lead levels of 5 to 9 micrograms per deciliter, the lowest level of lead exposure now tracked by health officials, require only a single prick test. According to the CDC, the average error is 1 microgram per deciliter, a 10% to 20% overestimate in lead levels between 5 and 9. And federal rules allow laboratories to overestimate blood lead levels by as much as 4 micrograms per deciliter and still meet accuracy standards.

Does Mastio know something I don’t? I read Hanna-Attisha’s paper. Nowhere does it say that her team was examining capillary blood lead levels. I also know a little something about how blood lead levels are checked because my wife is a pediatric advanced practice nurse. Where she works, they’re all venous blood levels, not capillary blood levels. Moreover, in places where capillary blood levels are measured, they are generally confirmed with a venous blood level. Moreover, a study that Mastio himself cites showing 20% of children with elevated blood lead levels in Michigan points out that, of 2002 to 2005 10,000 cases of elevated blood levels, only 1,000 of those had not been confirmed with a venous test. My guess is that the number is even lower now. Would 10% of the samples make a difference? Looking at the data in Dr. Hanna-Attisha’s paper, I deem it doubtful.

This leads to the jaw-droppingly stupid conclusion:

But it also true that the health threat in Flint is being exaggerated. While plenty of questions remain about who is most at fault and who is most at risk, one thing is for sure: Flint residents of only a decade ago would have counted themselves lucky to suffer the lead “poisoning” rates plaguing the city today.

This is such a blatant attempt at denying the problem while maintaining plausible deniability by acknowledging that lead is not good that it’s hard to know if it’s motivated by ideology or cluelessness. It’s also not as though Michigan doesn’t publicly publish data about blood lead levels in children. For instance, take a look at the 2013 report. Yes, there has been a gratifying decline in the number of children with elevated blood lead levels. That doesn’t mean that Flint residents of a decade ago would have counted themselves lucky only to have the lead poisoning rates of today, particularly given that we don’t yet know how high these percentages will go. Remember, Flint only switched back to Detroit water in October, and, thanks to the corroded pipes, lead levels are still elevated. Let’s put it this way, even if Flint residents from 10 years ago would be happy with today’s lead levels, today’s Flint residents are not at all happy about reversing the decades of progress that drove the numbers of children with elevated lead levels down so quickly. Nor should they be. That’s the real context. It’s all the context that’s needed.

Basically, Mastio’s argument seems to boil down to this: You shouldn’t “panic” because what are now considered to be maximal recommended lead concentrations have been exceeded and the percentage of children with elevated blood levels has increased alarmingly. Hey, things were worse as recently as a decade ago! While you’re at it, don’t worry about asbestos in the workplace. You’re still exposed to way less than you would have been 50 or 60 years ago. Living next to a Superfund site? Don’t worry, be happy. Things were much worse in the 1970s. As has been pointed out, it’s easy to accuse the people of Flint of “hysteria” if you’re not the one living there and your children aren’t drinking the lead-laden water. Mastio might be more convincing if he had some skin in the game, but he doesn’t. So he fails to see just how weak and unconvincing his arguments are, because he and his family are not at risk.

Comments

  1. #1 Mrs Woo
    January 28, 2016

    I have wept over this and the families it affects. I am so grateful for the passion if the whistleblowers involved.

  2. #2 Mrs Woo
    January 28, 2016

    “of. What I get for commenting blurry…

  3. #3 palindrom
    January 28, 2016

    The op-ed in question is, unfortunately, all too typical of what happens when apologists for polluters strike back. It’s exactly the kind of disingenuous propaganda one finds from, say, global-warming deniers.

    And as for the motivation, it’s clearly ideological — the underlying message is an assertion that the public-interest disasters that occur when one goes about systematically hijacking democratic (and, quite clearly, Democratic) institutions in the name of small-government are really not that bad.

    And of course, those ideologically committed to this will lap this up in an orgy of confirmation bias. It’s disgusting, frankly.

  4. #4 JP
    January 28, 2016

    Yeah, but we’re talking about poor and/or black people, so who cares, right?

    And they wonder why our kids don’t do as well in the scrappy schools they’re allowed to go to.

  5. #5 MikeMa
    January 28, 2016

    Lots of blaming the democratic local government on social media. Easy to refute but difficult to stop.

  6. #6 Orac
    January 28, 2016

    And of course, those ideologically committed to this will lap this up in an orgy of confirmation bias. It’s disgusting, frankly.

    They already are:

    http://acsh.org/2016/01/some-sane-talk-on-the-flint-water-crisis/

  7. #7 Todd W.
    http://www.harpocratesspeaks.com
    January 28, 2016

    Mastio might be more convincing if he had some skin in the game, but he doesn’t. So he fails to see just how weak and unconvincing his arguments are, because he and his family are not at risk.

    Indeed. I’m sure that if his own water supply were to suddenly have elevated levels of lead, he would be pretty quick to make a stink about it, rather than heeding his own advice to be happy that it’s not as bad as it was 20 years ago.

  8. #8 jrkrideu
    At the bottom of the lake (the bottom end that is)
    January 28, 2016

    So Mastio’s argument is, Well we didn’t poison a lot of kids in other parts of the city so let’s not get upset”?
    And this is in a country that went into melt-down panic over one Ebola case being repatriated under full quarantine conditions?

    He also seems to miss the point that the other part of the problem is the total failure of city and state government to do their jobs.

  9. #9 Helianthus
    January 28, 2016

    In 2005, […] Back then, 26% of kids tested — that’s more than one in four — had blood lead levels (5 micrograms per deciliter or greater) that would cause concern today. In the hardest hit parts of Flint now, only 10.6% of kids have such concerning levels of lead in their blood.

    Err, it’s “only” 10.6% but it’s also about “only” half less than in 2005.
    Compared to the kids next door, wouldn’t it be also like “only” 10 times more?
    Anyway, 10% of a population is a lot of people. Mastio is a bit cavalier, here.

    that’s more than one in four

    Congrats on Mastio’s algebra skills, he mastered the table of 4. Now, can he try mastering the table of 10, as in “10.6%, that’s more than 1 in 10”?

  10. #10 Eric Lund
    January 28, 2016

    Shorter David Mastio: Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

    That there may have been more children in the past with “concerning” levels of lead is irrelevant: the number can and should be much smaller today. We know how to do lead paint abatement. We have eliminated lead in gasoline. We know how to prevent lead solder from leaching into domestic water pipes. Those three things account for the drastic drop in rates of elevated lead levels since the 1970s. What happened in Flint is that the people in charge recklessly disregarded the last, and a spike in lead poisoning was the predictable result.

    As for that 26% number: Was that a representative sample, or was it specifically focused on children who were particularly at risk? If the latter, then even Mastio’s “it was worse in the past” argument is bunk.

  11. #11 Ellie
    January 28, 2016

    I’d like Mastio to commit to drinking nothing but that water for the next six months. Put his mouth, etc..

  12. #12 Delphine
    slouching towards shortbread
    January 28, 2016

    This is an argument I have heard more than once, when it comes to rationalising development aid. “Well, life is much better in (insert LDC here) than it was in the (insert decade here) because fewer kids die of (malnutrition/malaria/pneumonia/diarrhea) now.”

    Translation: Poor/brown/marginalized/doesn’t affect me/don’t care, with a soupcon of old-timey get offa my lawn/I walked eight miles uphill etc. etc.

  13. #13 Delphine
    January 28, 2016

    He also seems to miss the point that the other part of the problem is the total failure of city and state government to do their jobs.

    Yes, and that’s a big point to miss here. This was no accident. They knew better, they just didn’t do better.

  14. #14 Sarah A
    January 28, 2016

    Like antivaxxers who dismiss “hysteria” over outbreaks of VPDs, Mastio misses the point: the elevated lead levels in these kids, and whatever health problems arise from them, were completely preventable. You don’t get to shrug and say “sh!t happens” when preventing the sh!t from happening was your godd@mned job!

  15. #15 Michael J. Dochniak
    Iowa
    January 28, 2016

    Ellie writes (#11),

    I’d like Mastio to commit to drinking nothing but that water for the next six months.

    MJD says,

    I’d like Mastio to commit to drinking nothing but that water with tea for the next six months.

    What’s in the tea?

    A recent study showed that the lead content in tea leaves was 0.48–10.57 mg/kg.

    http://www.jfda-online.com/article/S1021-9498%2815%2900075-7/abstract?cc=y=

    The researchers stated that the quantitative method established in this work lays a foundation for preventing heavy metal toxicity in humans from drinking tea and will help establish regulations to control the contents of heavy metals in tea.

    Is adding tea leaves to Mastio’s lead-tainted water cruel and unusual punishment?

  16. #16 Dan Welch
    January 28, 2016

    an imperative to save money at all costs combined with gross incompetence to poison Flint’s children with lead.

    I won’t argue with the gross incompetence, but this was not a cost-cutting measure — the new source was actually more expensive. When DWSD learned of Flint’s intention to switch, Susan McCormick made an offer to cut their prices almost in half, which would have brought the cost to the city of Flint significantly under that of the KWA deal. The KWA deal, though, included the construction of a new pipeline, and necessary changes to the existing Flint water treatment plant.

    In other words, the switch was essentially a public works project; the emergency manager went with KWA even though it was (a) going to cost more and (b) not going to be ready for a few years, because building the pipeline meant jobs in a place that desperately needed them. You can argue the merits of doing that; the real problem was that the city needed interim water.

    Here’s a copy of the letter from the emergency manager discussing the DWSD’s proposal: http://reason.com/assets/db/14537555551018.pdf

    And here’s a study that asserts that KWA was lowballing their costs, and they wouldn’t be the lowest regardless over the length of the contract.: http://mediad.publicbroadcasting.net/p/michigan/files/201512/water_report.pdf

    The emergency manager had this information, yet still went with the KWA option, which lead to the disastrously bad decision on where to get their water from while the pipeline was being completed. They knew it would cost more, but did it anyway.

  17. #17 JP
    January 28, 2016

    Word on the street is to stay inside tonight, lock the doors, put something important out on the porch.

    A Passover.

    Mostly for Chicagoans.

    We’ll see about the stars!

    -JP

  18. #18 Todd W.
    http://www.harpocratesspeaks.com
    January 28, 2016

    @Dan Welch

    I don’t think that’s what Orac was referring to when he talked about “saving money at all costs”. I believe he means that after the decision to switch to KWA was made, and Detroit decided to end their contract, since the city had to get their water from somewhere until the new pipeline was complete, the decision was between the short-term contract with Detroit or getting the water from the Flint River. The Flint River option was the cheaper of the two.

  19. #19 Roadstergal
    Daughter of Michagander
    January 28, 2016

    “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”

    More like – “Sure, your husband got shot, but he got shot later in life than a lot of people in the past wars. Cheer up!”

  20. #20 Gilbert
    January 28, 2016

    from drinking tea and will help establish regulations to control the contents of heavy metals in tea.

    Well, Michael J. Dochniak #15, there is that saying “all the X-tainted tea in China…”

    It is not going to get fixed; In fact, the American people are being set up to be disarmed for when them Chiners want to come over here and mine the rare-earths out of the midwest — It’s what the BLM land grab is all about; Just wait and see.

    Cat-eatin’, kid-‘tardin’, cheap-plastic-crap pushin’ Obama-dinner positive reviewers… At least we got *The Slide* recalled…
    http://plancksconstant.org/blog1/2007/10/another_china_toy_recall.html

  21. #21 Rich Bly
    Ocean Shores
    January 28, 2016

    I have been either regulating or insuring that water systems stay in compliance with the monitoring requirements of 40CFR141 and/or state rules for over 25 years. The operators of the Flint water system and the State of Michigan drinking water program (as have several more water systems around the country) have shown a total disregard for what, when and how regulatory sampling is taken. They have also shown a disregard as to how to respond when samples exceed the regulatory limits.

    As to the DS (d stands for dumb and you can guess the second) that wrote this article; I doubt that he has a clue as to what he is writing about. So things are better than they were: great. Does this mean we shouldn’t worry about preventable problems? During the late 1800s and early 1900s about 10,000 people a year died in Detroit from waterborne diseases, this dropped to about 400 when chlorination of the water systems was began. 400 is much better than 10,000 so we shouldn’t worry about them?

    This writer states, “Flint’s 8,000 children have not had their lives destroyed”. A study done in the 1980s showed that at very low bone lead levels (well below the current blood lead standard) cognitive, behavioral and developmental issues were seen. Of these mere 8,000 children who could have had there lives ruined: how many Oracs, Einsteins, or David Bowies may have been lost because of this minor issue?

  22. #22 Gizmo
    SW Michigan
    January 28, 2016

    Orac, perhaps you’d care to comment on the letter recently written by the President of Kettering University in Flint in an effort to factually summarize the situation in Flint , no doubt in the face of parental concerns that their kids’ IQs are in jeopardy? http://www.kettering.edu/sites/default/files/resource-file-download/KetteringWaterAlumniParents1242016.pdf

    Mastio may have been hamfisted in his effort, but the larger point he makes, I think, is correct. There is a great deal of hyperbole, political theater, and ax-grinding that has taken place over the condition of the water in Flint. I think it’s also a gross exaggeration to repeat such statements as “the Michigan state government poisoned the children of Flint.” This implies that the children in the city have categorically received enough lead to reach toxic levels, when in fact while the levels recently found in some children warrant action, it is hardly pandemic.

    This isn’t to say that the situation in Flint is a “hoax”, or “nothing”, or of “no real concern”. It is none of those things. Nor am I saying that there is an “acceptable” level of children that it’s OK to “poison”. Government workers and others certainly did make a mess of things. People have been fired, with no doubt more to come. But the pendulum shouldn’t swing in the opposite direction within implications that the current residents of Flint have been doomed to a future legacy of problems with mental retardation, kidney failure, infertility, etc., with implications that elected officials did so due in part to the fact that few people in Flint ever voted for them.

    As for the photo at the top of this story, it’s ironic to see you (of all people) resort to using “argumentum ad yuckium”. No “The People of Flint Have Been Poisoned!” media story seems complete without these photos of unpleasant looking discolored water samples. But to quote the President McMahan:

    “You may see pictures of bottles of rusty or cloudy water in articles on water safety; the same has been true of the reporting surrounding the water crisis in Flint.

    “The presence of suspended rust in water can turn it orange, red, brown or yellow. The presence of rust in water is not necessarily an indication of the presence of lead or other contaminants in the water, nor does it necessarily indicate that the water is unsafe to drink, but water corrosivity does accelerate the erosion of iron elements in the water system which may discolor the water. In water, lead is colorless, odorless, and tasteless, and the presence of rust in water does not indicate the presence of lead, bacteria, or other substances. Conversely, water may also be clear and yet contaminated with lead or bacteria.”

    But using such photos, designed to turn the stomachs of readers, sure are effective at fanning the flames of outrage… I gotta hand you that!

  23. #23 JP
    Video Heaven
    January 28, 2016

    I just told some young friends in Ann Arbor:

    Thanks.

    Hope that helped.

    Have a nice day!

    .

    -JP

    😉

    (I sure have learned a lot here so far!)

    🙂

    Thanks!

    🙂

  24. #24 Orac
    January 28, 2016

    Clearly, Gizmo doesn’t realize that these are samples of water collected around Flint and that residents had been showing containers of water that looked just like it for months before Marc Edwards came to test the water. If Gizmo thinks that water is so safe, then I’m sure he wouldn’t mind drinking up, now would he?

    As for that letter, it was clearly designed to reassure parents of students at Kettering that the water at the college was safe for their precious kids to drink. Note how he writes:

    The municipal water infrastructure that supplies Kettering is relatively modern, the flow-rates of water through the system are high, and we do not have lead-copper transitions in the main supply lines, as do many residences in some areas of the city. All of these factors reduce the chance of contamination in our supply. Even so, the University has taken a number of proactive steps to ensure that the campus drinking and cooking water supplies are free from contamination, a number of which have been described in previous communications to the campus on this issue.

    He then goes on to describe additional measures (filters, etc.) in use on campus to assure water purity. In other words, he’s saying that university water is not affected because the university doesn’t have lead pipes or lead-copper transitions and that it’s been testing the water for a year now since the reports in 2015 of water that looked like the water above started coming out in droves. Yes, he seems to be saying, I know that there are a lot of those poor people with old houses and old plumbing that have a problem with lead, but your precious kids here at Kettering have new pipes and lots of filters and testing. They’ll be fine.

    Interestingly, the state began supplying bottled water to its workers in Flint a year ago.

    This part is also a straw man:

    But the pendulum shouldn’t swing in the opposite direction within implications that the current residents of Flint have been doomed to a future legacy of problems with mental retardation, kidney failure, infertility, etc., with implications that elected officials did so due in part to the fact that few people in Flint ever voted for them.

    No, I didn’t say that at all. I went out of my way to say that local officials could have screwed up as badly. The difference is that local officials feel much more political pressure when their constituents complain than an unaccountable emergency manager appointed by a governor whose constituency was not really Flint anyway and as a result might have responded a lot faster when the complaints about “bad water” started rolling in.

    Nice try at apologia, though.

  25. #25 Jered
    January 28, 2016

    The article also focuses largely on blood tests, which, as you’ve pointed out, don’t give any idea of what kind of long-term exposure a child has had.

    Also worth noting, Mastio mentions a case of lead in drinking water in Washington, comparing the number of houses with more than 300 ppb in Washington to those in Flint – there were hundreds more in Washington, so this event is overblown! Not only is he cherry-picking the lead level, he’s using a flat number of households as a comparison between two studies with different numbers of households tested. About 6000 were tested in Washington, compared to about 250 in Flint.

    And if you go down to the still-worrisome level of 15 ppb, a higher percentage of households had that level in Flint than in the Washington survey.

  26. #26 JP
    Brains, Know-How, and Native Intelligence (Northern Exposure)
    January 28, 2016

    But using such photos, designed to turn the stomachs of readers, sure are effective at fanning the flames of outrage… I gotta hand you that!

    It’s almost like you think it’s wrong to be outraged at the lead poisoning of poor and black children in Flint, like their lives and IQs don’t matter.

    That’s kind of messed up, don’t you think?

    I mean, try scrolling up in the comments section or something.

    The things you’re saying have already been addressed.

    More or less.

  27. #27 JustaTech
    January 28, 2016

    Gilbert @20:
    That is an impressive mishmash of racist nonsense and sovereign citizen blithering. I think you’ve met your RDA of idiotic, bigoted posts.

  28. #28 Helianthus
    January 28, 2016

    @ Roadstergal

    More like – “Sure, your husband got shot, but he got shot later in life than a lot of people in the past wars. Cheer up!”

    Eh, it’s still about inflicting lead poisoning on other people…

  29. #30 Gizmo
    SW Michigan
    January 28, 2016

    “If Gizmo thinks that water is so safe, then I’m sure he wouldn’t mind drinking up, now would he?”

    Talk about your straw men! I clearly said there was reason for safety concerns about the water. It was a question of scope. Consider the two following possible story headlines:

    “State of Michigan Engages in Mass Poisoning of the Children of Flint”

    “Governmental Mismanagement Exposes Many Flint Residents To Potentially Harmful Water”

    To me, the later summation is a more accurate representation of the story and the former is an exercise in hyperbole designed to fire up the Internet Outrage Culture. I’m not sure why this makes me an “apologist.” or how my view implies that anyone should be found blameless?

    As for your comments about McMahan, you forget that he mentions that many of his students live off-campus away from the protection of his state-of-the-art filtration systems.

    As for the early complaints about taste and discoloration, again, as McMahan correctly points out, funny tasting or discolored water does not imply lead contamination. But I agree that evidence does point to people like the DEQ screwed up the monitoring as time passed. Whenever you make a major change to a water source, there’s going to be have some people that notice. If Flint suddenly changed their supply to the aquifers of Central Florida, half the people would complain about the sudden rotten egg smell and taste of the stuff coming out of their taps. But again, I understand the appeal of those re-filled water bottles with rusty water in them. Rusty water in Flint and formaldehyde in vaccines, two sides of the same coin

    As for your supposed calling out of my “straw man”, here’s your direct quote: “The emergency manager and Governor Rick Snyder weren’t elected by the people of Flint, who were not the sort of people who would have voted for Snyder anyway.” So if, by the last part of that sentence, you didn’t mean that Snyder & Co. effectively said “It’s a deep blue city, so who cares about what happens to them!”, then what does that mean? That doesn’t sound like a “local vs. far off bureaucrats” argument to me.

    Orac, I love your blog and the stuff you write, but you’re a lot better when you keep your political passions in check. I get it, you cannot stand Snyder or his political party.

  30. #31 Orac
    January 28, 2016

    You forgot the context before, conveniently enough:

    I won’t get into the political weeds again, except to mention that I do think the emergency manager law had a lot to do with the failure of the state to act sooner. Although local governments can and do screw up and there’s no guarantee that an elected city council wouldn’t have made the same initial decision, I bet that an elected city council would have felt a lot more pressure a lot earlier to do something when citizens started complaining about the brown water and the rashes it caused. The emergency manager and Governor Rick Snyder weren’t elected by the people of Flint, who were not the sort of people who would have voted for Snyder anyway.

    All of which is true.

  31. #32 Delphine
    January 28, 2016

    “Orac, I love your blog, except when you’re pissed about government malfeasance at the expense of children!”

  32. #33 Gizmo
    SW Michigan
    January 28, 2016

    “You forgot the context before, conveniently enough…”

    The last part of the last sentence is extraneous to your argument and the sections before it does not alter its context in any way. I’d also wager that if the affected area was Kent County you would be more likely to predict a different response from the current administration because those that live there are the “sort of people” that voted for him. Or do you think your feelings/context would still apply for Kent County too?

  33. #34 Narad
    January 28, 2016

    Gilbert @20:
    That is an impressive mishmash of racist nonsense and sovereign citizen blithering. I think you’ve met your RDA of idiotic, bigoted posts.

    Stoned rambling is Gilbert/Tim/TIm/tiM/Timmeh’s whole trip.

  34. #35 Militant Agnostic
    January 28, 2016

    Delphine

    “Orac, I love your blog, except when you’re pissed about government Republican malfeasance at the expense of children!”

    FTFY – I thnk this is a little closer to the mark.

  35. #36 Orac
    January 28, 2016

    Yep. That’s about it. Notice how he focused like a laser beam on the one bit of political snark I indulged in, rather than the core argument.

  36. #37 capnkrunch
    January 28, 2016

    Gizmo@22

    I think it’s also a gross exaggeration to repeat such statements as “the Michigan state government poisoned the children of Flint.” This implies that the children in the city have categorically received enough lead to reach toxic levels, when in fact while the levels recently found in some children warrant action, it is hardly pandemic.

    The government screwed up in a big way then made matters worse through denial and refusal to act. Children in Flint got lead poisoning as a result. But thanks for reminding me why I find party/ideological absolutism so disgusting.

    @30

    Governmental Mismanagement Exposes Many Flint Residents To Potentially Harmful Water

    Nice and whitewashed.

    The last part of the last sentence is extraneous to your argument and the sections before it does not alter its context in any way.

    I read that sentence to mean Synder is an incompetent buffoon and it’s ironic that Flint got hurt by it as they vote Democrat; but I suppose that’s because I’m not reading with red tinted glasses. You seem to be the only one who construed it as Orac suggesting that Synder acted maliciously based on Flint’s political leanings.

  37. #38 sadmar
    January 29, 2016

    Orac was at pains NOT to suggest Synder acted maliciously based on Flint’s political leanings. Which is too bad as that’s exactly what Snyder did. Shay has the link, and you need to hear Michael Moore’s interview with Larry O’Donnell the other night. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bUZ_86pFr4s

    Moore specifically addressed the lead-level-in-blood issue as Snyder had cited that as being known to be at a concerning level in a relatively small number of kids. Moore replied first that this number was just a ‘discovered so far’ and may be the tip of the iceberg, but second and more importantly he said lead poisoning is cumulative, irreversible, and given how long the Flint water has been bad, its likely many many kids have suffered serious damage even if the lead levels in their blood are relatively low now. I don’t how how accurate this is, though it seems to square with Rich Bly’s and Jared’s comments. Can anyone here clarify/explain?

    This Mastio fella sounds like the kind of guy who’d argue that we should be happy with structural racism as it’s better than slavery, and slavery was cool because the human property lived longer and had things easier than their forebears did in East Africa. Those guys never talk about the Middle Passage, and Mastio has failed to mention that the Flint River water also produced numerous cases of Legionaires Disease, and people are already f***ing DEAD!

    It is indeed wise to look to mere bungling before assuming perfidy. However, as the evidence in the Flint Water case continues to pile up, nothing is falling on the former. At the very least, declaring this “gross incompetence” rather than race/class warfare and/or cynical profiteering off human devastation that would make even Brian Clement blush is unjustifiably premature.

  38. #39 Amethyst
    The Crystal Temple
    January 29, 2016

    Things are bad in underdeveloped country X or Y? Don’t worry about it – I’m sure they are better off today (no matter how slightly so) than a couple of hundred years ago! Recall the Doctors Without Borders this instant!

    Gay people shouldn’t worry about equal rights – a couple of hundred years ago they were murdered outright. That is a vast improvement and they should be happy with how things are now! Bigotry and hatred is waaay better than being killed duh..

    The Holocaust was a non-issue, really. Jews and other minorities were persecuted and murdered in much more horrible ways back in the day (such as being burned or buried alive as they were blamed for the Black Death hitting Europé way back when). Gassing is humane in contrast, surely!

    …..

    I mean, seriously? This kind of reasoning is so bad you’d only expect it from a Poe, or a strawman someone constructed against his opponent in a debate.

  39. #40 sadmar
    January 29, 2016

    @JustaTech:

    I took Gilbert @20 as ironic, a parody of “racist nonsense and sovereign citizen blithering.” I realize the blogger who posted the image of the cheese-grater slide is actually a bigot, but SNL couldn’t come up with a funnier send-up of xenophobic hyperbole, so the intended spirit of the link isn’t exactly clear . Assuming Narad has correctly identified ‘Gilbert’ as ‘Tim’, I’d opine that Tim’s whole trip is meta-trolling the blog, either by making it impossible to tell whether or when or to what degree he’s joking (but he knows), or by making us confront the fact that he doesn’t know, doesn’t care, and it doesn’t matter.

    In which case, I think we might have a new Razor to name after Narad; ‘never attribute to idiotic bigotry expressions which are better explained by long use of non-prescription pharmaceuticals’.

  40. #41 palindrom
    January 29, 2016

    sadmar @40 — On the other hand, I think that non-prescription pharmaceuticals won’t result in idiotic bigotry unless it was there in the first place. As the Romans used to say, In cannabis, veritas. Or something like that.

    Glad to see you’re not, uh, dead!

  41. #42 Orac
    January 29, 2016

    Personally, I don’t think there was any malicious intent in Snyder’s actions. He really does appear to be the “One Tough Nerd” that he ran as the first time, except that he’s actually not so tough. He is a nerd though, and appears to be a well-meaning person. Personally, I think he really does believe that some local governments are so messed up that they need an “adult” to come in to clean up the mess. (Too bad those “adults” tend to be his cronies and never seem to suffer consequences from screwing up. After all, Darnell Earley, the EM who made the switch to Flint River water followed that up with a plush assignment as the EM for Detroit Public Schools.)

    Snyder also really believes that government should be run more like a business, which means the bottom line über allies. (Remember, his background was in business; he ran Gateway Computers.) He also delegates a lot and appears to be surrounded by yes men. Notice how his former chief of staff expressed concern that the state government was “blowing off” the people of Flint last summer, but it’s unclear whether Snyder ever got that message.

    So, basically, I think Snyder was most likely asleep at the switch. That’s why I chalk this one up to (mostly) epic incompetence, coupled with a lack of accountability because the local voters really had no power to hold Snyder or his EMs accountable; that is, until the story broke internationally a few weeks ago and has been in the news almost every day since then.

    Even now, Snyder is unlikely to pay a price other than the destruction of any future political career. As recently as a year ago, he was being touted as a potential presidential candidate, and more recently as a cabinet member if Republicans win the White House this year. It’s been widely thought that he might run for Senate after his term as Governor is up. (He’s in his second term and term-limited; so he can’t run again for Governor.) None of that’s likely to happen now.

    Nor is it likely that anyone with any real power will be indicted. Attorney General Bill Schuette refused to open an investigation for months and only relented when the story hit international news. He wants to succeed Snyder as governor and probably viewed further stonewalling as detrimental to that ambition. Of course, because he wants to be governor, it would probably help him if he brought in some indictments. But he’s also closely associated with Snyder; so the officials indicted likely will be mid-level, no one with much authority. After all, Schuette appointed a significant Snyder and Schuette campaign donor to spearhead his investigation. We’ll see how that goes, but no one here in Michigan is particularly confident that anyone of any real consequence will be indicted.

  42. #43 JP
    January 29, 2016

    So where’s Eichmann, in Detroit?

  43. #44 Not a Troll
    January 29, 2016

    Incompetence or rather negligence?

  44. #45 Orac
    January 29, 2016

    There’s no reason it can’t be both.

  45. #46 Not a Troll
    January 29, 2016

    Agreed, and I hope that if they find evidence of willful negligence, they will prosecute.

    If NY was able to turn the corner on doing this then there’s hope for Michigan.

  46. […] be epically incompetent in its handling of the Flint water crisis, which I’ve written about a couple of times before. Our legislature repealed our mandatory motorcycle helmet law, and as a result in this state […]

  47. #48 Rich Bly
    Ocean Shores
    January 29, 2016

    Below is a study (couldn’t capture the link) concerning lead and long term effects.

    Neurotoxicology and Teratology 24 (2002) 711 –717

    Bone lead levels in adjudicated delinquents
    A case control study
    Herbert L. Needleman*, Christine McFarland, Roberta B. Ness,
    Stephen E. Fienberg, Michael J. Tobin
    Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Keystone Building, Suite 310,
    3520 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA
    Graduate School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
    Department of Statistics and Center for Automated Learning and Discovery, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
    Received 4 February 2002; received in revised form 30 April 2002; accepted 14 May 2002

  48. #49 Todd W.
    http://www.harpocratesspeaks.com
    January 29, 2016

    @Rich Bly

    Here’s the link: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12460653

  49. #50 Rich Bly
    Ocean Shores
    January 29, 2016

    Thanks Todd W.

  50. #51 Gizmo
    SW Michigan
    January 29, 2016

    Orac, it’s never been my belief that you have expressed or implied that there was malicious intent the response from the Snyder administration regarding the water in Flint. What I have felt is that you have forwarded the notion that they blew off the complaints, in part, because politically Flint isn’t a region of concern to them.

    As for #36, with the exception of your “snarky” ending, I largely agree with what you said in that paragraph. It was the “oh and…” part that I objected to. I don’t think you added that as just a fact, but to make a point.

    As for the statements that my summation of the Flint water problems as “Governmental Mismanagement Exposes Many Flint Residents To Potentially Harmful Water” is a “whitewash”, I’m still curious to hear how my statement doesn’t mean that some Flint residents may have had their health harmed by what happened, or who exactly I’ve absolved from culpability for the events that transpired???

    What has concerned me is what I see as hyperbole by the use of statements like “mass poisoning”. Flint, Michigan isn’t a Picher, Oklahoma in the making, The health effects are also still an open question. The Feds have pledged to provide health monitoring over the years for children of Flint. It will be interesting to see the results. I may be wrong, but I’m willing to bet a shiny new dime that the results will be largely unremarkable when all is said and done.

    Lastly, if state or local officials are found to have engaged in falsifying or tampering with the testing of water in Flint in an effort to hide evidence of contamination, then I think that the law should deal with them accordingly.

    …oh, and I’m glad to read that the tightening of the vaccine waiver process in our state is working at bringing the number of such waivers down. That’s something we certainly can agree on.

  51. #52 Gilbert
    January 29, 2016

    At the very least, declaring this “gross incompetence” rather than race/class warfare and/or cynical profiteering off human devastation

    So, deep down inside, they may have done it on purpose, sadmar #38?

    I *think* Politicalguineapig first proposed it here with

    did they do this deliberately?

    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2016/01/08/the-poisoning-of-the-children-of-flint-michigan/#comment-426768

    Such refreshing insight coupled with astute literary surmisal** really piqued my interest.

    So, what is an admirer to do? Naturally, I had a peek-see into her medicine cabinet; There within was spied a brown paper bag with a stain which indicates freshness sporting brightly embossed, multi-colored (just like Google) text, “vitamin Idiobigpo”. I plonked down several of the textured, zesty looking gelcaps and started to swoon — As with the last words of Malachi to William of Baskerville (Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose), “It had the power of a thousand scorpions.”

    Still, I had intended to constrain my new-found bigotry to policy rather than seeming to be misunderstood as maligning any particular peoples.

    I cast my bigotry upon all authoritarian constructs; Chiners, ‘mericuns, Monsantists, GlaxxoSmithClinists, and Warmists et. al are equally disparaged through my lack of color-blindness.

    Donald Trump aside, nobody knows the full import or provisions of the Trans Pacific Partnership. Much mineable, arable, grazeable, and golfable land seem to have already been given out and used to subvert all scales of sovereignty, food security, the sanctity of new-car-smell, and a rebellious public spouting out “This is whack!”.

    ^^Will it be used to force Golden Rice™ to be grown on BLM-confiscated land because the Chiners want it but don’t want it in their back yard? — Many of their export deals explicitely forbid GMO.

    Many Amazonian forests may be clearcut to facilitate paying their World Bank debt through cattle speculation so as to sell back to the otherwise constrianed American beef market where “It’s what’s for dinner” but only for heavily-taxed imported beef of Monsanto fart-free cows.

    There is this dude, Michael Snyder, which has a compost of links to the various issues:

    “”43 percent of all corporate profits in China are produced by companies that the Chinese government controls.

    “”when the Chinese purchased Smithfield Foods, they suddenly owned 460 large farms and became the top employer in dozens of communities all over the United States…

    “”the Chinese are aggressively “putting down roots in Detroit”…

    They’ll be able to fix the lead pipe problem with shiney, new copper pipes from Alabama:

    “”That project is likely a copper tube plant to be built by Golden Dragon Precise Copper Tube Group. A legal notice published Thursday indicates that the city of Thomasville and others intend to give land and other incentives to GD Copper USA

    “”Speaking of Michigan, one company known as “Sino-Michigan Properties LLC” actually had plans to buy up 200 acres of land near the town of Milan, Michigan. The goal was to build an entire “China City” with artificial lakes, a Chinese cultural center and hundreds of housing units for Chinese citizens.

    It’s industry, it’s policy, it can’t help but be pernicious:

    This area of Zhejiang province, 60 miles from Shanghai, has become the subject of public and media scrutiny after more than 16,000 dead pigs*** were found in tributaries of the city’s river, the Huangpu, a source of tapwater. …

    … Over the weeks since the discovery of 16,000 pig carcasses in Shanghai’s water supply, authorities have consistently worked to quell public outcry, reiterating that drinking water is safe.

    “”The post, which went out to her 50,000 followers on 14 March, called for a “pure stroll” without banners or slogans. Soon afterwards she was asked to “drink tea” with the police – an idiom used to describe interrogations.

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/mar/29/dead-pigs-china-water-supply

    **As she pointed out, The Three Body Problem was abit ‘numbery’, at first. Upon her glowing endorsement of Neil Stevenson, I’ve recently begun giving a listen to Snow Crash — So far, it is reminiscent of Harry Harrison’s, The Stainless Steel Rat (I’m very particularly fond of the recounting exploits of James (Slippery Jim) Bolivar DiGriz, and family), but more contemporarily suited for those tounge pierced players of The Sims, Watch Dogs, and Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

    *** I know, I know; I had to do a double-take myself to see that it was not an article about the results of outsourced police swimming proficiency training.

  52. #53 Not a Troll
    January 29, 2016

    Gilbert,

    I don’ t have the slightest idea of what you are going on about but it was interesting to find this out:

    when the Chinese purchased Smithfield Foods

    In spite of their awesome sale prices, I swore off Smithfield products this past year after finding that they had the most tasteless meat I have ever encountered and I have tasted some poor quality meat in the Army Reserves.

  53. #55 Delphine
    January 29, 2016

    ^^ That’s a terrific piece, and I want to smush and raspberry that beautiful little girl’s belly. Jesus that kid is cute!!!

  54. #56 Graham
    January 29, 2016

    Just to prove that it’s not just the right that is spreading dangerous misinformation are two cases covered by Snopes that seem to be coming from the other end of the political spectrum.

    1. Claims that ‘Social Services’ is going to take away the kids of those affected by this.

    http://www.snopes.com/flint-water-crisis-cps/

    2. Claims that victims will be ‘prohibited’ from selling their houses (if they even own them.).

    http://www.snopes.com/illegal-sell-homes-flint/

  55. […] My state is screwed up, and the epicenter of the fallout from the dysfunctional mess that is the Michigan state government is the city of Flint. As you probably recall, around the holidays a story that had previously been mainly a Michigan story broke nationally in a big way. It is the story of how a combination of the imposition of an emergency manager on the city, epic incompetence at the level of the state and local government, and outright denial of a problem for several months by the veyr state agency (the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality) charged with making sure that things like this don’t happen lead to a truly horrific decline in the quality of tap water in Flint. The CliffsNote version is that in 2014, thanks to a state-imposed emergency manager, the city of Flint its water supply to Flint River water, which was more corrosive. Compounding this problem, the water was not properly treated. So it leeched lead from old lead pipes, leading to high levels of lead in many parts of the city with older pipes, which, not coincidentally, happened to be in the poorer areas of the city. Also as a result, the percentage of Flint children with elevated blood lead levels increased alarmingly. The situation in Flint is serious, the “don’t worry, be happy” dismissals notwithstanding. […]

  56. #58 squirrelelite
    where the river water really is cleaner
    April 20, 2016

    An update in this case:

    Three people have now been charged

    Genesee District Judge Tracy Collier-Nix authorized charges against Flint employee Michael Glasgow and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality employees Steven Busch and Michael Prysby, The Detroit News and Mlive reported.

    Glasgow is accused of tampering with evidence when he allegedly changed testing results to show there was less lead in city water than there actually was, local media reported. He also was charged with willful neglect of office.

    Busch and Prysby were charged with misconduct in office, conspiracy to tamper with evidence, tampering with evidence, a treatment violation of the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act and a monitoring violation of the Safe Drinking Water, local media reported.

    http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/criminal-charges-filed-in-flint-michigan-water-crisis-media/ar-BBs1I6x?li=BBnb7Kz

    This story gets background mention in reports of water quality here in Albuquerque where a portion of the city’s water is pumped from the upper Colorado River basin into the Rio Grande basin where it is removed and prcessed at a special plant built a few years ago.

    A couple quotes from this year’s report:

    The Water Authority has never exceeded the action level for lead. During the last round of sampling in 2015, the 90th percentile sample for our system was 2 PPB. The highest sample detected was 4 PPB.

    A study done in the 1990s concluded that lead was not used in construction of the water system. However, lead bearing materials were sometimes used to connect the water mains to the service lines. We worked to take those connections out of the system at that time.

    There’s no excuse for the people responsible for water quality in Flint not taking similar measures.

  57. #59 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    April 20, 2016

    As a result of the news in Flint, the local water authorities have started notifying ratepayers when the line from the building to the meter is likely lead. Apparently it’s a significant number of buildings and, typically, is the owner’s responsibility.

  58. #60 shay simmons
    United States
    April 20, 2016

    Of course, if slumlords in Flint are like slumlords around here, that information isn’t going to make it all the way down to the tenant.

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