THE G PERSPECTIVE: How tap water became toxic in Flint, Michigan

Flint, Michigan, lies about 70 miles from the shores of the largest group of fresh water bodies in the world: the Great Lakes. Yet its residents can't get clean water from their taps.A city employee flushes out a hydrant.A city employee flushes out a hydrant.FEMA aiding in toxic water crisisFEMA aiding in toxic water crisis 03:15Nearly two years ago, the state decided to save money by switching Flint's water supply from Lake Huron (which they were paying the city of Detroit for), to the Flint River, a notorious tributary that runs through town known to locals for its filth."We thought it was a joke," said Rhonda Kelso, a long-time Flint resident. "People my age and older, thought 'They're not going to do that.' "The switch was made during a financial state of emergency for the ever-struggling industrial town. It was supposed to be temporary while a new state-run supply line to Lake Huron was ready for connection. The project was estimated to take about two years.What's in the water?Soon after the switch, the water started to look, smell and taste funny. Residents said it often looked dirty.Rhonda Kelso and her daughterRhonda Kelso and her daughter"The water would come in brown and my daughter was like 'Mom ... why is the water brown?' "Kelso thought it was sewage, but it was actually iron. The Flint River is highly corrosive: 19 times more so than the Lake Huron supply, according to researchers from Virginia Tech.According to a class-action lawsuit, the state Department of Environmental Quality wasn't treating the Flint River water with an anti-corrosive agent, in violation of federal law. Therefore, the water was eroding the iron water mains, turning water brown.But what residents couldn't see was far worse. About half of the service lines to homes in Flint are made of lead and because the water wasn't properly treated, lead began leaching into the water supply, in addition to the iron.This had been the status quo for nearly two years, and until September, city and state officials told worried residents that everything was fine. Former Flint Mayor Dayne Walling even drank it on local TV to make the point.The city is now issuing bottled water to Flint residents.The city is now issuing bottled water to Flint residents.But in August, a group of skeptical researchers from Virginia Tech came up and did in-home testing and found elevated levels of lead in the drinking water and made those findings public. State officials insisted their own research was more accurate."You're paying for poison. I'm paying for water that's a toxic waste," Kelso said. She and her daughter and four other families are now part of a class-action lawsuit that alleges not only lead poisoning but several medical conditions resulting from contaminated water after the switch. CNN sought responses from all the defendants, and many did not respond.Later it became publicly known that federal law had not been followed. A 2011 study on the Flint River found it would have to be treated with an anti-corrosive agent for it to be considered as a safe source for drinking water.Adding that agent would have cost about $100 a day, and experts say 90% of the problems with Flint's water would have been avoided.But Flint residents say they were kept in the dark for 18 months until a local doctor took things into her own hands.

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