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Effects of Flint Water Crisis

Updated on July 5, 2020

Effects of Flint Water Crisis


Flint water crisis within Michigan is deemed to be an example of environmental unfairness coupled with bad decision making. The problem commenced in 2014 when the city relocated its drinking water source from Detroit's system to the corresponding Flint River in a bid to save cost. The existing insufficient treatment and examination of the water in a series of chief water quality and health issues about the Flint residents, have been persistently disregarded, flouted, and discounted by the underlying government officials. The objections mounted by the malodourous, discolored, as well as off-tasting water piped into the Flint homes for over 18 months have resulted in skin rashes, hair loss, as well as enflamed skin (Pauli, 2019). This prompted the Michigan Civil Rights Commission which is a state-established body to conclude that poor governmental reaction to the underlying Flint crisis was purely due to systemic prejudice.

Before the crisis attracted national headlines, the city of Flint was extremely conversant with water problems. For over a century, the Flint River, which flows via the centre of town, has acted as an illegal waste dumping site both for the treated as well as raw refuse emanating from numerous local industries that emerged along its existing shores, ranging from the carriage and car factories to the corresponding meatpacking plants as well as lumber and paper mills. Furthermore, the waterway has received raw sewage emanating from the underlying city's waste management plant, agricultural and urban overflow, as well as toxics originating from the percolating landfills.

The evolvement of the existing industries found along the river's shores directly impact on the progress of the entire city's economy. In the 20th century, Flint was the origin of General Motors with a prosperous home of roughly 200,000 individuals, who were typically employed by the underlying booming automobile industry (Pauli, 2019). Nevertheless, the 1980s marked the duration of the brake of prosperity due to the escalating oil prices and auto imports leading to the n shuttered auto plants as well as laid-off employees, who ultimately relocated. The city has been experiencing precipitous decline within the population plummeting to merely 100,000 individuals majorly African-American, with roughly 45 percent of its residents categorized to be staying below the poverty line.


Flint Water Crisis

Flint Water Crisis commenced on April 25th, 2014 when the politician and administrators of Flint switched the water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River (Pauli, 2019). Residents were ensured that the water would be safe, and they would not be able to notice a difference. It was not long after the switch that residents began to complain about the taste, smell, and color of the water. It was during the summer of 2015 that activists discovered that there was no corrosion control mandated by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Corrosion control is a preventative measure implemented to keep the chemicals in the water from damaging the pipes.

Flint's water supply was typically overwhelmed by numerous calamities. The city's relocation from Detroit water to the corresponding Flint River massively corresponded with an outburst of the Legionnaires' disease, which is deemed to be a severe kind of pneumonia that killed 12 and sickened more than 87 individuals amidst June 2014 and corresponding October 2015. Moreover, this was considered to be the third biggest occurrence of the Legionnaires' disease documented within the U.S. account as well as the discovery in the year 2014 of the fecal coliform bacteria within the city water. This likely resulted in the city's failure to maintain satisfactory chlorine within its existing water mains in a bid to disinfect the water.

Atypically, the city's chief corrective measure was adding extra chlorine devoid of tackling supplementary underlying issues consequently leading to the emergence of new problem regarding the high levels of the total trihalomethanes (TTHM), which is cancer-causing chemicals since it is a by-product of the process of chlorination of water Moreover, 90 individuals were sickened while 12 perished due to exposure to the corresponding riverine legionella bacteria during the 18 months period when the city of Flint attained its water from the Flint River amidst 2014 and 2015 (Pauli, 2019).

Milwaukee Cryptosporidium Outbreak

Waterborne disease outbreaks are comparatively rare events and over two decades ago, Milwaukee encountered the biggest recorded drinking water outbreak within US history. Resultant from the chlorine-resistant parasite commonly known as Cryptosporidium parvum, the outbreak typically more than 400,000 individuals in the year 1993 and resulted in the expenditure of more than $96 million in pooled healthcare costs as well as productivity losses (Corso et al., 2003).

The Milwaukee Water Works (MWW), which gets its water from Lake Michigan, and corresponding supplies treated water to the underlying residences and businesses within the City of Milwaukee as well as nine adjacent municipalities within Milwaukee County (Nowakowski, Salazar & Sigfusson, 2019). One of the water-treatment plants is situated within the northern segment of the city while the other situated within the southern section and the two segments are capable of supplying the whole district. Nevertheless, when the two plants are effectively in operation, the corresponding southern plant principally serves the southern share of the district.

Assessment of the prevailing two plants' produced a large quantity of untreated water and the corresponding treated water that is supplied to the residents depicted an escalation in terms of turbidity of the treated water emanating from the southern plant, commencing roughly on March 21, with escalates to the extraordinary levels of the turbidity from March 23 through to the April 5 (Corso et al., 2003). Moreover, the outcome depicts that the water supply as the probable origin of the underlying infection prompting to initiation of a recommendation to the MWW residents to boil their respective water.

As stated by Dr. Stephen Gradus (2014) from the City of Milwaukee Health Department, on April 5th, 1993 when the Chief Virologist and Commissioner of Health at the City of Milwaukee Health Department Public Health Laboratory were contacted in regard to the (then assumed) gastrointestinal illness reports in the city (Nowakowski, Salazar & Sigfusson, 2019). The Milwaukee Water Works was simultaneously receiving complaints about the color, taste, and odor of the water.

According to a study conducted by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there was "an estimated 403,000 residents of the greater Milwaukee, Wisconsin, are (population, approximately 1.61 million) became ill when an ineffective filtration process led to the inadequate removal of the Cryptosporidium oocysts within one of the existing two municipal water treatment plants. Moreover, the official outbreak-associated majorly attributable mortality stood at 69 deaths, with 93 percent happened within the individuals suffering from AIDS (Mac Kenzie et al., 1994).



During the period of the water crisis, Flint's population stood at 102,000 composing of 57% of black, 37% of white, 4% of Latino as well as 4% of mixed race with the total population standing at while that of the Milwaukee was at roughly 800,000 individuals (Gradus, 2014). Whereas the city of Milwaukee has elevated minority population coupled with low media return, Milwaukee's neighboring cities are predominantly white with the median income that approximately doubling of the city.

Based on this information, there exist not numerous differences amidst the composition of each city in terms of the demographic. However, it is imperative to remember that this analysis is purely looking at the environmental injustice of the Flint Water Crisis contrasting to that of the Milwaukee epidemic, not the cities collectively. Thus, the investigation is typically based on the affected population within each region at the expense of the city as a whole. According to Table 1, the percentage of the cryptosporidiosis -associated deaths in Milwaukee within two years of the outbreak show that seventy-six percent were White, thirteen percent Black, and eleven percent Hispanic (Hoxie et al., 1997)

Figure 1: Demographic Characteristics of Cryptosporidiosis-Associated Deaths

Overall, it can be concluded that the income and demographics of Flint and Milwaukee in 2014 and 1993 respectively are typically aligned in plenty of ways. However, the desired population to analyze reveals that it is not (Gradus, 2014). Nevertheless, the massive distribution cryptosporidiosis among the whites greatly swayed the acknowledgment as well as the application of the extensive solutions. Based on the comparison of the origins of these underlying crises as well as costs depicts that the populations play a significant role in shaping political responses. Due to the massive publicity that was associated with the Milwaukee cryptosporidiosis outbreak, awareness of the disease was relatively higher during the post-exposure duration compared to the pre-exposure duration (Corso et al., 2003). The escalated awareness led in the corresponding escalated testing for the cryptosporidiosis outbreak by the underlying health care providers coupled with the succeeding escalated possibility that cryptosporidiosis would be listed as the chief cause of death. Moreover, the escalation of post-exposure mortality might have emanated from the escalated awareness, thus, it does not depict the actual escalation in terms of the outbreak.

Milwaukee cryptosporidiosis outbreak was considered to be the largest within the United States and it resulted in substantial deaths, especially within the immuno-compromised populations. Just as Flint, Milwaukee populations are not peculiar regarding its vulnerability to the severe consequences of the underlying waterborne cryptosporidiosis occurrence (Gradus, 2014). Before the outbreak, the yearly reported AIDS case rate within the Milwaukee metropolitan location was rated to be 78th out of the total 98 metropolitan locations within the United States possessing populations more than 500,000(Nowakowski, Salazar & Sigfusson, 2019).

To continue on the extent of the response to these crises, according to medical research, the reasons for the postponement of corrective action for the cryptosporidium outbreak were not due to politics or government laxity. As discussed in an article from The New England Journal of Medicine, one factor in the delay was a misdiagnosis of the cryptosporidium infection. As previously mentioned, the symptoms of cryptosporidium include diarrhea, abdominal cramping, fatigue, muscle aches, and nausea. These are also the symptoms of viral gastroenteritis (intestinal flu), which is what a majority of physicians diagnosed it as. The authors conjointly indicated that it is uncommon for people with gastrointestinal symptoms to [go to the doctor] unless the severity of the illness is substantial (Mac Kenzie et al., 1994)

Moreover, it seems that previous information is unnecessary when analyzing the relationship between the incidents in Flint and Milwaukee, but it is important to recognize the factors that caused the delay in undertaking corrective action. The reason for the delay to implement corrective action was cumbersomeness in the identification of the common diseases and related illness but was not a key factor in initiating government action to improving the water conditions (Nowakowski, Salazar & Sigfusson, 2019). They typically lacked suitable for correction action like in the case of the Flint water crisis. Thus, to reiterate, Milwaukee officials did not hesitate to act once they were presented the problem but Flint officials did.

Whereas a relatively larger part of the population massively benefited from the study, sections of the existing population remained at danger. Even though no deaths related to the occurrence were reported to the general, Milwaukee data depicted that early HIV-associated deaths, approximated to stand at 100, happened because of the cryptosporidiosis outbreak. Moreover, there were escalated deaths among individuals suffering from HIV in six months successive to the outbreak, which was followed by a reduction within the anticipated deaths. Waterborne outbreak of the renowned cryptosporidium contagion can lead to considerable mortality, especially among the immunocompromised inhabitants. Thus, policies about the secure drinking water ought to take into consideration the underlying probable disastrous concerns of the waterborne cryptosporidiosis among the prevailing populations.

Flint outcomes depict that prospect losses could occur in case actions are not implemented to alter residents' negative views of their respective municipal water quality. The idea of the residents being distressed regarding water as well as being stuck within the city also poses severe questions pertaining the social and environmental fairness. The occurrence in both Flint and Milwaukee had implications for supplementary cities. Moreover, Flint might be deemed to be one of the first cities within the United States to encounter man-made disastrous water infrastructure failure on a huge scale. Whereas Flint's never had corrosion control chemicals directly resultant from the lead problem, officials within supplementary cities termed the crisis as simply a failure by the people in charge to undertake treatment of water appropriately. Thus, unlike the Milwaukee case, the Flint water crisis is considered to be an indicator of the things that occur when cities within the extensive fiscal suffering turn to distressed measures in a bid to save money.


The state treasurer, as well as the underlying Department of Environmental Quality, had both signed off on the underlying switch of the Flint (Gradus, 2014). Moreover, the Department of Environmental Quality did not adhere to the stipulated federal rules that were meant to prevent lead from infiltrating in the water supply. Moreover, they might have deliberately manipulated samples in a bid to make the prevailing conditions look relatively better. Therefore, there was distinct situational environmental injustice regarding the two case circumstances that explain the reason for differentials' results. The localized governmental response within the Milwaukee and corresponding affected population effectively terminated the cryptosporidium outbreak. Nevertheless, the underlying state mechanism within Michigan coupled with insufficient coordination with supplementary agencies prolonged the Flint Water Crisis.

There was environmental unfairness coupled with bad decision making in Flint as seen when government officials disregarded claims of insufficient treatment and examination of the water quality and health issues. Michigan Civil Rights Commission which is a state-established body concluded that poor governmental reaction to the underlying Flint crisis was purely due to systemic prejudice (Pauli, 2019).


Flint's population stood at 102,000 while Milwaukee was at roughly 800,000 individuals during the time of the occurrence. Whereas the city of Milwaukee has elevated minority population coupled with low media return, Milwaukee's neighboring cities are predominantly white with the median income that approximately doubling of the city. There exist not numerous differences amidst the composition of each city in terms of the demographic. However, the study was based on the environmental injustice of the Flint Water Crisis contrasting to that of the Milwaukee epidemic, typically restricted to the affected population. Income and demographics of Flint and Milwaukee in 2014 and 1993 and, the massive distribution cryptosporidiosis among the whites greatly swayed the acknowledgment as well as the application of the extensive solutions. Thus, the comparison of the origins of these underlying crises as well as costs depicts that the populations play a significant role in shaping political responses.

Flint and Milwaukee situations have resulted in enhancements universal regarding the water quality treatment processes, water quality checking as well as regulations to safeguard public health. In numerous means, Milwaukee's return, as well as demographic, is deemed to be parallel to Flint. The source of the crises as well as costs depicts that the inhabitants massively shape the political responses. The cities are identical in terms of demographics but white individuals chiefly resulted in the fixing of the problem. Moreover, the problems were fixed when it started affecting the white individuals.


Corso, P. S., Kramer, M. H., Blair, K. A., Addiss, D. G., Davis, J. P., & Haddix, A. C. (2003). Costs of illness in the 1993 waterborne Cryptosporidium outbreak, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Emerging infectious diseases, 9(4), 426.

Gradus, S. (2014). Milwaukee, 1993: The Largest Documented Waterborne Disease Outbreak in US History–Water Quality & Health Council. Water Quality and Health Council. Retrieved from

Hoxie, N. J., Davis, J. P., Vergeront, J. M., Nashold, R. D., & Blair, K. A. (1997). Cryptosporidiosis-associated mortality following a massive waterborne outbreak in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. American Journal of Public Health, 87(12), 2032-2035.

Mac Kenzie, W. R., Hoxie, N. J., Proctor, M. E., Gradus, M. S., Blair, K. A., Peterson, D. E., ... & Davis, J. P. (1994). A massive outbreak in Milwaukee of Cryptosporidium infection transmitted through the public water supply. New England journal of medicine, 331(3), 161-167.

Nowakowski, A., Salazar, A., & Sigfusson, L. (2019, May 8). Cryptosporidium vs. lead: Comparing Milwaukee's response to these major water threats . Retrieved from WUMN: Milwaukee's NPR:

Pauli, B. J. (2019). Flint Fights Back: Environmental Justice and Democracy in the Flint Water Crisis. Mit Press.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Michael Omolo


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