President Barack Obama will visit Flint, Mich., next week amidst the city’s ongoing drinking water contamination crisis, which could have lifelong consequences for the city’s children.
Obama announced his May 4 visit in a letter to 8-year-old Mari Copeny, a Flint resident who wrote to him about the crisis. During his time in the city, federal workers will brief Obama on the crisis response. The president also plans to speak with residents.
“I want to make sure people like you and your family are receiving the help you need and deserve,” Obama wrote. “Like you, I’ll use my voice to call for change and help lift up your community. Letters from kids like you are what make me so optimistic for the future.”
As my colleague Denisa R. Superville reported in March, the Flint crisis has “thrust lead poisoning back into the national spotlight,” with schools across the nation discovering that water with higher-than-acceptable lead levels flows from their faucets and drinking fountains.
This week marks two years since Flint, under the control of an emergency manager appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder, switched its water source to the Flint River to save money.
That set off numerous contamination problems, the most significant of which was lead, caused by the corrosive water that lacked proper treatment. State officials repeatedly downplayed residents’ concerns about the water.
Flint city and school officials are dealing with the fallout from the crisis, after it was discovered that hundreds of children there have high levels of lead in their blood, in part because of the state’s decision to switch Flint’s water supply. Millions of dollars in emergency federal aid has flowed to the city to expand Head Start and Early Head Start services for young children affected by crisis.
School Superintendent Bilal Tawwab testified before a congressional committee in February, telling members that, “Across the city, the threat of significant disability is even more serious for Flint’s youngest students, those not yet in school, or the unborn.”
The city and state have returned Flint to its former water source, and while the water quality is improving, it still has not been deemed safe to drink.
A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.