The ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan, has been fodder for nationwide discussions about the role of government, corporate ethics and public safety for two years. The public water supply was compromised in April 2014 and while locals have seen movement, the crisis remains unresolved. Many locals face penalties for unpaid water bills, despite high concentrations of lead and suggestions that the contaminated water resulted in an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease.
Many short-term solutions have been proposed — while emergency response agencies and nonprofits have provided a middling supply of bottled water, this solution impedes the independence of people in the community and brings about new issues, such as waste management and environmental impact, into the picture.
Local government has introduced recommendations for and has subsidized the distribution of lead-removal filters, available at five locations in Flint. Despite their availability, many locals do not know how to install the filters — and worse yet, the filters are not compatible with many older faucets. Professional faucet installation may cost upward of $150 — a high price for many members of the community.
Local 370 Lends a Hand
This is where the local plumbers union has stepped in and stepped up to the plate. United Association Local 370, rallied by union official Harold Harrington, has been working with volunteer plumbers from across Michigan to provide and install replacement faucets and water filters for locals.
Union members of Local 370 have been volunteering in the community since October, when the Flint water crisis began to gain traction in local and national news. Early 2016 brought additional help from related organizations in Detroit, Lansing, Saginaw and other Michigan cities.
“We did not cause this American tragedy in Flint. But we certainly can help correct the damage that has been done.” – Harold Harrington, union official and organizer
“We did not cause this American tragedy in Flint,” Harrington is quoted in a Michigan Public Radio piece published Feb. 1, 2016. “But we certainly can help correct the damage that has been done.” Working with local law enforcement, logistics have been eased by assistance with traffic control and backup if volunteers feel unsafe.
Plumbing Supplies Aplenty
The union’s efforts have been bolstered by donations from Plumbing Manufacturers International (PMI), an industry association comprised of U.S.-based manufacturers, dedicated to quality and ensuring water safety. The organization represents members in regulatory and legislative proxy, giving manufacturers a voice when it comes to safety requirements and promoting safety and quality for consumers.
PMI donated a range of products from companies it represents, including major brands such as, Moen, Brasscraft Speakman, Delta and American Standard. These faucets were supplemented by additional supplies, provided by Hodges Supply, a local wholesale plumbing and heating supplier.
With strong industry support, the work is ongoing in Flint to restore potable, safe water to residents. While reports from national publications have noted that lead levels in Flint exceed filter ratings, recent studies show that the equipment is working. Residents perform testing at home to ensure water is safe, using kits provided for free by state and federal environmental protection representatives.
Many Flint homes still lack access to clean water, but with the help of local unions and generous donors, the water crisis is gradually giving ground.