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3 Years After Flint's Water Crisis, When Will Things Be Back To Normal?


Three years ago today the mayor of Flint, Mich., Karen Weaver, declared a state of emergency over high lead levels in her city's water. State and federal emergency declarations quickly followed. The city had changed its water source, but officials failed to properly treat the new water causing the pipes to corrode. Mayor Weaver was elected just a month before declaring that state of emergency. She has come on our program before to talk about the crisis in her community, and Steve Inskeep recently checked back in with her.

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: OK. 2016, you said, we need new pipes in the ground. A couple years later, are there new pipes in the ground?

KAREN WEAVER: There are some new pipes in the ground.

INSKEEP: How's it working?

WEAVER: So far, so good. We're excavating every single pipe in Flint because that was the only guaranteed way to be able to identify if it's a lead or galvanized pipe.

INSKEEP: I guess we should explain the science here, right? There are these...


INSKEEP: ...Old lead or galvanized pipes. Contaminants were leaching out of them into the water, but the copper pipes are OK.

WEAVER: The copper pipes are OK.

INSKEEP: So you've dug a lot of holes. You've...


INSKEEP: ...Identified a lot of pipes. You've also replaced a lot of pipes.


INSKEEP: Although, as you probably know, you've been criticized by the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of many outside and inside groups that are looking at this. And they have argued that you have not focused your effort in the right places to find the most urgent problems.

WEAVER: Well, I beg to differ with them because one of the things we know was when this first started - I remember we were on - over on Bishop Street. And someone called and said, well, you did three houses on our street, and then you didn't do our house. I said, well, we're going by what's been identified as the hot spots. And those are areas where they tested extremely high. We prioritized where we knew we had kids under the age of 6 and seniors. I'm going to stay focused on what we're doing because we're ahead of schedule. And our goal is to be finished by sometime midsummer.

INSKEEP: Sometime midsummer, so by 2019. You're up to 18,000 holes or beyond that now. How many holes will you have dug by the end of this?

WEAVER: We have estimated that there's probably another 10 to 12,000 that we have to look at.

INSKEEP: You told us that this needed to happen in order to restore public confidence.

WEAVER: Correct.

INSKEEP: In your judgment, is public confidence restored?

WEAVER: It's not completely restored. No. It's been broken for such a long time. That's why I haven't told people to drink up. Until we get all of these pipes replaced or looked at to make sure they're copper to copper, I will not tell people to drink from the tap.

INSKEEP: Are you still on bottled water as you were a couple years ago?

WEAVER: Yes I am. I use bottled and filtered water.

INSKEEP: Have enough people been held accountable for this water crisis? I know there are about a dozen people who've been criminally charged in various ways.

WEAVER: Right. They've been - people have been charged, but that's as far as it's gotten. Now, we know there have been two that have been bound over for trials.

INSKEEP: Is more than a dozen people the right number of people to have charged?

WEAVER: You know what? I don't know. We want everybody held accountable. And so one of the things we've said is, you know, you really don't have a choice other than to let the legal system play out and see what happens. But so far, it has not worked for the people of Flint.

INSKEEP: When we spoke in 2016, I asked you about Michigan's governor, Rick Snyder. And I would characterize your response as diplomatic. You said you talked to him all the time, that he is sometimes responsive. But you avoided saying very strongly if you thought he was doing really well or really badly. Now, of course, he's on his way out of office, so perhaps there's an opportunity for an evaluation. How well do you think he has done throughout this crisis?

WEAVER: You know what? It was interesting. I was listening to him talk, and he said he wished things had gone differently. Well, things should've gone very differently. He has not helped to make Flint whole. And I know we got more from the state than a lot of people thought we were going to get, but we should've gotten more. One of the things we know is on the back of a water crisis, we've had a public health crisis. And I don't care what level you're at. We want everybody to be held accountable because what happened to Flint was criminal. We've had loss of life, and there needs to be an accounting for that. And if it means the governor, then so be it.

INSKEEP: What are you saying - that it wouldn't bother you if the governor were criminally investigated?

WEAVER: No. Why would that bother me?

INSKEEP: Mayor Karen Weaver of Flint, Mich., thanks so much.

WEAVER: OK, thank you.

GREENE: And we should say, we asked Governor Snyder about the mayor's critique there. His office said in a statement that lead levels in Flint have been within federal limits for two years. And they said he has stayed focused on what was best for Flint. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.