Bioethics Blogs

Are We All Flint? by Catherine Fennell

[This article originally appeared in Limn, Issue No. 7, “Public Infrastructures / Infrastructural Publics”.]

For the past several decades, Flint, Michigan, has staggered under waves of deindustrialization, disinvestment, and abandonment that have left the city depopulated, its built environment in shambles, and its remaining residents reeling from high unemployment and crime rates, a decimated tax base, and dwindling municipal services. While grim, Flint’s decline is by no means unique in a region whose cities have become synonymous with the booms and busts of twentieth century American manufacturing. Nor is the degree of its decay unusual. Aficionados of ruin will find crumbling infrastructures arresting and aplenty in most any “Rust Belt” city. What is singular, however, is the attention that Flint’s contaminated water has received in recent months, an attention that is now amplifying ongoing debates concerning America’s ailing and aging infrastructures. That amplification is especially apparent in variations of a phrase that has recently echoed through local, regional, and national media and activist circles: “We are all Flint.”

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With every disclosed email, alleged wrongdoing, and denial of responsibility, the course of Flint’s contamination grows as murky and foul as the water that began flowing from its taps in 2014. In April of that year, the city switched its water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River. The switch unfolded amid a climate of intense fiscal austerity in which state-appointed emergency managers pushed Michigan’s most financially beleaguered cities to cut costs. In Flint, part of this push included a proposal to bypass Detroit’s Water and Sewerage Department as the city’s water supplier, and to instead source cheaper water through a newly constructed pipeline into Lake Huron.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.