Social Justice Equals Clean Water


Reasonable people may disagree about the definition of social justice; however, there is probably little disagreement that water provided by the government should be safe to drink. Indeed, the Safe Drinking Water Act delineates the standards with which all public drinking water should comply.[1] Under federal law, the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) has the authority to set and enforce these standards.[2]

About 60 miles from Detroit, a water crisis has developed in Flint, Michigan, wherein the drinking water is so dirty that a baby should not even bathe in it, let alone drink it.[3] The crisis is disproportionately affecting minorities as the City of Flint has a 56 percent African American population, whereas the entire State of Michigan only has 14 percent.[4] The City of Flint also experiences a poverty level of 41 percent while the State of Michigan only has 17 percent.[5] The contamination began in April 2014 when a state-appointed emergency manager switched the source of the city’s tap water from Detroit’s system to the Flint River.[6] Apparently, the water from the Flint River has a greater amount of lead than the Detroit system.[7] As a result, blood samples from children in Flint are disclosing high amounts of lead, which is “a toxic agent that can damage the nervous system.”[8]

On January 16, 2016, President Obama signed an emergency declaration ordering federal assistance to support state and local response efforts in Flint.”[9] Subsequently, the EPA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation initiated their own investigations relating to the Flint water crisis.[10] In a letter sent to the Governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, the EPA expressed its concerns about the “continuing delays and lack of transparency.”[11]

The citizens of Flint have also taken action. A class action lawsuit has been filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.[12] In the complaint, the citizens of Flint allege that the State of Michigan and several of its officials have violated 42 U.S.C 1983.[13] This federal statute permits individuals who have been deprived of a right, privilege, or immunity granted to them by the Constitution of the United States or state laws, to initiate a civil lawsuit for their injuries.[14] This statute is known for its use in civil rights cases.

In any event, the repair of the Flint water pipes has been estimated to cost anywhere from millions of dollars to 1.5 billion dollars.[15] A price tag, however, cannot be placed on the health of children. It is unconscionable that the citizens of Flint, Michigan, have been deprived clean water for nearly 2 years. The government should never endanger the well-being of its citizens. Social justice does not recognize price tags; it demands that this travesty be remedied.


[1] See 42 U.S.C. §§300g-300g-9 (2012).

[2] Id.

[3] Michigan AG: Flint Water Not Even Safe to ‘Bathe a Newborn’, Fox News (Jan. 25, 2016),

[4] U.S. Census Bureau, Flint, Michigan QuickFacts (2010),

[5] Id.

[6] David Shepardson, FBI Joins Probe of Flint, Michigan’s Lead Contaminated Water, Reuters (Feb. 2, 2016 9:56 PM),

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Environmental Protection Agency, (last visited Feb. 10, 2016).

[10] See FBI Joins EPA in Investigating Flint Water Crisis for Criminal Violations, The Guardian (Feb. 2, 2016, 12.20 PM),

[11] Letter from Gina McCarthy, Environmental Protection Agency, to Rick Snyder, Governor of Michigan, Jan. 21, 2016,

[12] See Complaint (Nov. 13, 2015),

[13] Id.

[14] See 42 U.SC. § 1983 (2012).

[15] Ben Klayman, Cost to Fix Flint Water Infrastructure Could Reach $1.5 Billion: Reports (last visited Feb. 10, 2016).

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