Coalition Report: Never Forget Flint

By Heather Navarro,
Executive Director Coalition For The Environment

The story of Flint, Michigan is not over and it is not one St. Louis can ignore. I am asked a lot of questions about Flint and what, if any, parallels there are to the drinking water in St. Louis. While I was very pleased to see that schools, including the one my children attend, were checking lead levels this summer, there is a bigger issue at play. Older cities like St. Louis must always be attentive to lead in drinking water, homes and the soil but the bigger threat is the lack of public participation in public utilities and natural resources, such as drinking water.

When the City of Flint decided to hire consultants to address their financial problems, public health ceased to be a priority. The number one job of government is to take care of its people. It is not to turn a profit. As the story has unfolded and continues to unfold in Flint, the recurring theme is that at all levels of government money, status, and power trumped people. While we must always be vigilant about what is in our water, we must be equally vigilant that our leadership is representative of the people. Whether it was a mother, a pediatrician, or a city inspector, at some point up the chain, that voice was silenced in Flint and even vilified in order to protect some other interest.

This story is playing out in Missouri. Last spring the Missouri legislature changed the composition of the Clean Water Commission to eliminate the requirement for public participation. And they did it without a public hearing and in retaliation for a decision some of them did not like.

The Clean Water Commission is a seven-member body that is responsible for making decisions to safeguard Missouri’s waters from polluters. The law opened the door to control of the commission by private interests. Private companies have shareholders and a bottom line. Cities, towns, and states have citizens. It is essential to the health and happiness of everyone that we do not confuse the two.

This Thanksgiving, I am grateful we have a justice system that is dealing with the bad actors in Flint and I encourage all of us to follow our gratitude with a healthy serving of respect for one another and responsibility for our entire community.

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