Letter to the editor: Why the Flint water crisis is still a crisis


Over the last few weeks, I’ve seen a number of articles circulating on social media and on various news sites attempting to shift people’s attention from the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, to lead issues right here in Pennsylvania. These articles have headlines like “18 cities in Pennsylvania reported higher levels of lead exposure than Flint.” Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton, Philadelphia and Scranton are among the 18 cities with higher lead exposure levels than Flint. Before I begin my argument I would like to make it clear that high lead exposure levels are an extremely important issue that should be taken seriously, regardless of where or how they may have originated.

Almost every time I see an article like the one mentioned above shared on Facebook or on any form of social media, it is accompanied by a caption or comment trying to invalidate the attention being given to Flint. Yes, the lead levels might be higher in a number of cities here in Pennsylvania, but lead is not the reason for the outrage over what has happened in Flint.

The Pennsylvania department of health clearly stated that the primary source of childhood lead poisoning is exposure to deteriorating lead-based paint. Many of the homes in Pennsylvania were constructed before 1950, when lead was frequently used in homes. Anyone who is aware of what is happening in Flint knows that their lead issue is coming from their water supply.

In the United States, housing is seen as a product which should be provided by the private market, and products like water are generally to be provided by the public or government. This private versus public distinction is one that I feel everyone needs to understand before trying to judge these two very different situations.

Residents of Flint were essentially poisoned and then lied to by their government. These aren’t some sketchy landlords, or third-party sources — these are their elected officials, officials whose job it is to protect the citizens. If this had been a case of negligence on the part of a landlord, then affected residents could simply call the police and bring a lawsuit against the landlord. But who do you call if it’s the city that’s pumping you contaminated water? Citizens of Flint trusted their city and were rightfully outraged when they learned that they had been receiving water with extremely elevated levels of lead. Government and elected officials should be held to the highest standards and called out if citizen’s expectations are not met.

The comparison between the lead issue in Flint and the lead issue in Pennsylvania would be much more understandable if we lived in a country that provided citizens with housing stock, but that is simply not the case.

We purchase housing privately and are putting our trust in the previous homeowners and landlords, not in our government, that we are being sold a safe home.

Again, I think that lead situations in Pennsylvania and Flint are both serious issues that should each be given attention and dealt with. However, I think that attention needs to be given to the difference between these two examples of cities with high lead exposures. The most significant part of the Flint situation is that their water is a good provided by their city, and their city messed up, and then lied to them about it.

– Chester Toye, ’17

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