Flint residents outraged at loss of subsidies for water they fear is still tainted

State officials say water is now safe for consumption, though filters advised.

ByABC News
March 1, 2017, 3:25 PM

— -- The residents of embattled Flint, Michigan, had to resume paying their full water bills today, causing outrage among many of them.

The state has formally ended a program that subsidized the water bills of some Flint residents, after a public health crisis that rendered the city's water undrinkable nearly three years ago due to lead contamination.

Anna Heaton, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Snyder, told ABC News today that tests conducted on Flint's tap water in the past three months found that it meets all federal standards, although state officials recommend the use of filters as a precaution. The state is providing the filters.

Heaton also noted that residents received about $41 million in state credits to help them pay their water bills from April of 2014 until Tuesday, when the plan expired.

Flint authorized a new pipeline in 2013 that was intended to reduce costs by switching the city’s water supply, but the execution was flawed, leading to fecal and, eventually, lead contamination of the city’s water.

A CDC study published in July found that after the water switch was made, children younger than 6 were 46 percent more likely to have elevated lead levels in their blood than before.

The recent tests, which Heaton emphasized were overseen by Marc Edwards, the Virginia Tech University professor who helped uncover the problem, have done little to reassure many worried residents, some of whom had hoped to address the issue this morning outside Mayor Karen Weaver's office.

"The trust is simply not there in this community anymore," Lisia Williams, a community activist who attempted but failed to speak to the mayor this morning, told ABC News. "Do we trust our water? No. Do we trust our governor? No. Our elected officials? No."

Today was supposed to be open-door day at Mayor Weaver's office, but officials scrapped the idea, Williams said.

Mayoral spokeswoman Kristin Moore did not comment on the cancellation of the mayor’s open-door plan, but cited recent news conferences at which the mayor expressed "disappointment" over the Republican governor's decision to make Flint residents pay their full water bills.

“I really wanted the governor to know what a help the credits have been,” Weaver said at a news conference last month. “They’ve helped Flint residents financially and also given them some relief emotionally because many people don’t feel they should have to pay for the water at all until it’s deemed safe to drink without a filter.

“I wanted him to know that I was disappointed to hear of his decision to end the water credits and to also stop helping with the city’s monthly payment to the Great Lakes Water Authority.”

Edwards, the scientist who helped conduct the tests that found the water safe for consumption, told ABC News by email today that Flint now has better water than "most smaller cities."

"All of the available data indicates that Flint drinking water quality has improved to the point that it is in the range of other cities with old pipe," Edwards wrote.

"In fact, Flint now has better water than most other similar cities. Obviously, there is still a horrible infrastructure crisis to deal with, but the public health crisis is largely behind us."

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician who also played a large role in bringing the water crisis to national attention, disagreed with Gov. Snyder's decision to end the water credits, adding that she thinks the water is still "unsafe to drink.”

"For years, Flint residents paid the highest water rates in the country for water that was and continues to be unsafe to drink,” she said in an email to ABC News. “The people of Flint should not pay for water today nor for years to come.”

Williams and other community activists side with Hanna-Attisha and say that they are unconvinced by Edwards' findings, and also suggest that Flint residents can’t afford to pay the rising bills that will be headed their way.

Water bills in Flint are some of the highest in the country, ABC Flint affiliate WJRT-TV recently reported.

Also, over 40 percent of the city lives below the poverty line, according to the most recent U.S. Census findings.

But while defending the governor’s decision, his spokeswoman Heaton told ABC News, "There's a lack of trust in Flint that's going to take time to repair.”

She also cited a January news release from Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality noting that while filters are still recommended for Flint residents, they are provided for free by the government.

Such assurances aren’t enough for residents like Arthur Woodson, an Army veteran who served in the first Iraq War and who recently participated in the Standing Rock protests over a North Dakota oil pipeline.

"Everyone is very upset," Woodson said of the return to normal billing. "The water isn’t safe yet, and [people suspect] that they're manipulating people into believing that it is."

Woodson is among the residents in the city of about 100,000 people pushing to recall Mayor Weaver, who is facing the fourth such attempt because of the water crisis.

“Everyone wants the mayor gone," Woodson said. "Because she just didn’t fight hard enough for us.”

The mayor has chosen not to comment on the attempts to recall her.