Do any of us care about lead in the drinking water in Flint, Mich.? Here are some reasons why we might.

  1. Flint is not the only city with lead or other heavy metals in the water.
  2. There is no safe amount of lead that children and infants can consume.
  3. Lead poisoning leads to behavioral problems.
  4. Behavioral problems increase an individual’s likelihood of either dependency on social safety nets or criminal activity.
  5. Even if law-abiding citizens are not victims of those who are brain damaged due to lead poisoning, the cost of incarceration and the expenses associated with the justice system might allow us to understand that it is preferable to abide by the law of the nation and provide safe, clean, drinking water to all residents, rather than risking an increase in the number of people who can’t care for themselves.
  6. Taking the time to understand a complex event allows us to build up the network of facts in our minds and improves our ability to think, both clearly and creatively.

One way to understand the Flint Water Crisis is to examine the role of the “bean counters.” Why does the law allow financial experts to make technical decisions on their own analysis? At work, many of us technical specialists bemoan the fact that management ignores our technical advice. The Flint Water Crisis revealed that the managers at the Michigan and U.S. federal agencies who are tasked with protecting the drinking water – a chemistry and biology problem if there ever was one – are not required to have any science background.

This blog entry, and those that follow, are based on research I did for a presentation at the Materials Science and Technology Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, in the fall of 2016. You are welcome to contact me if you would like a copy of my presentations, which have a lot of links to additional information. There are several news outlets that have prepared timelines of key events. Michigan Radio and the American Civil Liberties Union were deeply involved in getting the story out.

In hindsight, understanding the technical aspects of the chain of events that allowed dangerously high levels of lead to be released into the drinking water of many Flint, Mich., residents was simple. Understanding the human factors is a different story.

More insight next time in part 2.