The Democratic debate on Sunday took place in Flint, Michigan where the Flint lead pipe water crisis has plagued the town for a while now. Lee-Ann Walters, a resident of Flint attended the debate and asked Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton a question in regards to the old lead piping system that has poisoned the town’s water supply.
Although she was not pleased with either candidates response, it was Hillary’s response that disgusted Walters. In her words, “I hated Hillary Clinton’s answer. It actually made me vomit in my mouth.”
Walters, an early whistleblower in the Flint water crisis, had asked whether as president, Clinton and the Vermont senator would promise to require public water systems in the United States to remove lead pipes.
Clinton and rival Bernie Sanders did not give direct answers. Instead, Clinton proposed getting rid of all lead sources, including paint and dust, within five years.
“We will commit to a priority to change the water systems and we will commit within five years to remove lead from everywhere,” Clinton said.
To Walters and most likely all of Flint, five years is an unacceptable timeline.
“To tell a Flint resident that we’ll handle this in five years is no different than what the city was telling us and what the state was telling us,” Walters said.
Walters and other Flint residents knew their water had gone bad soon after the city switched from the Detroit water system to the Flint River as its water source in 2014. The city was under the control of an emergency manager appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder (R), and for more than a year the Snyder administration insisted the water was safe to drink even though it looked and tasted weird, caused rashes, and angry residents were marching in the streets.
Last fall, after a local pediatrician reported the rate of lead poisoning among Flint kids had jumped from 2.4 percent to 4.9 percent. The Snyder administration admitted it had failed to ensure the water wouldn’t leach lead from the city’s aging pipes. One of Walters’ own was among the children who suffered elevated blood lead.
Childhood exposure to even small amounts of lead can cause permanent brain damage.
Democrats have heavily criticized Snyder, and used the beleaguered city of 100,000 as a backdrop for their debate on Sunday. Snyder has apologized and embarked on a plan to replace Flint’s pipes in partnership with Mayor Karen Weaver.
Yet outside of Flint, there has been little effort to change the federal regulations that say lead pipes are OK, even after Flint’s experience showed how weak the regulations can be. The Environmental Protection Agency says 10 million American homes and buildings receive water from pipes at least partially made of lead.
Sanders at the debate promised that under a Sanders administration the EPA would keep its eye on water safety, which is what the agency is already supposed to do. Walters considered it a lame answer, but a more honest one.
Another thing she disliked about what Clinton said was the former Secretary of State’s focus on lead from paint and dust. Epidemiologists consider paint and dust to be the more significant sources of lead exposure, but public water systems have used those factors to downplay concerns about water lead.
“If you look at the numbers, most of the grants and funding go to lead paint, so to lump it all together is unacceptable,” Walters said.