Environmental Reporter and Flint Native: I Missed the Story of the Water Crisis

Two years ago the city of Flint switched from the Detroit water supply to the Flint River. But it took many months for most officials and media to listen to the residents who complained of brown and smelly water.

Aside from a few dogged reporters who continued to follow the story all along, the media really didn’t catch on that there was a problem in Flint until late last summer. One of those reporters who wishes she had given the story more attention sooner is Talia Buford, an environmental reporter for the Center for Public Integrity, and a Flint native. Buford recently published a column for the Washington Post lamenting turning a blind eye to the crisis. Here is a section of that column:

From the emergency managers who ruled the city to Gov. Rick Snyder to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the federal EPA, pretty much everyone messed up. Residents pleaded for help. Few listened. That wasn’t new. There is a legacy Flint residents are taught to bear early: Take what is thrown at you without complaint; just find a way to survive it. For as long as I can remember, each day in Flint seemed to come with a new indignity to endure.”

I think it was a little bit harder for people who weren’t there to understand the scope of what was going on,” says Buford, whose mother still lives in Flint. Buford says when her mom told her about a boil-water advisory in the city, that in and of itself didn’t even raise red flags for her.

Buford, who lives in Washington D.C., says she is disheartened by the deterioration she’s seen in Flint over the years.

It felt much more desolate than in the past when I went… but I hope the city recovers,” says Buford. But, she adds, the water crisis isn’t helping the recovery process. 

Buford says despite all the issues Flint has faced, it’s still home for many people, and it’s not fair to ask whether it’s time for residents to move away.

It’s a very big ask,” says Buford. “One, you assume people want to leave, and two, you assume people have the means to leave.”

To hear more of Buford’s conversation on Detroit Today, click on the audio link above.

Image credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers/ Public Domain

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