Think about how many times a day you use tap water. Now imagine finding out that tap water is poisoned with lead — and has been for nearly two years.
Residents of Flint, Michigan, don’t have to imagine — they’re living it. It’s a crisis that has been on the national radar since early January, and one that isn’t losing relevance any time soon.
The quick version of the complicated crisis is that Flint’s water supply, which was pulled from the Flint River between April 2014 and October 2015 instead of through Detroit’s water system as a way to save money, was transported to Flint residents through aging pipes corroded with lead. The lead heavily contaminated the city’s drinking water, leading to a health crisis.
The local and state governments had long told people living in Flint that the water was safe to consume, even with noticeable discoloration, distinct smell and a bad taste. But, due to drinking the water, thousands of residents now have severely high levels of lead in their blood, which can result in irreversible health problems, especially in children. These include learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities, seizures and even death.
The city of Flint, which is populated mostly by low-income people of color, has finally started to get the help it has needed for years, with relief efforts finally delivering clean water to residents. On Thursday, the Associated Press reported that the Michigan Legislature is expected to approve $28 million in funding to address the contamination, using the money to buy bottled water and filters, and provide services to children experiencing health problems from the effects of lead.
But the story isn’t over just because aid is on the ground. Those efforts, and the citizens of Flint, need comprehensive support until access to clean tap water is a universal right in the city.
It’s easy to feel removed, and relatively helpless, during a massive crisis like this. While you might not live in or around Flint, you can help the community get back on its feet. Here are four ways you can help efforts that are meaningfully addressing the water crisis.
1. Give Flint what it needs most — water.
Flint residents need ongoing water-based aid in lieu of drinkable tap water. Many local and national organizations are filling that need, doing tangible, impactful work to provide free water.
The Flint Water Fund, created by Flint’s local branch of The United Way, is collecting money to help pay for filters and bottled water. The organization will also use donations to support ongoing emergency support services and prevention efforts in the area.
All of the money collected through the organization will go directly to aiding in the crisis, with no processing fees attached. To donate, visit here.
The Salvation Army is accepting donations to directly benefit those in Flint, providing water and filters to those in need. The organization is also paying delinquent water bills of residents, some of whom are still being charged for water deemed unsafe to use.
To donate directly, visit the Flint-specific page of the local Salvation Army site, or text WATER to 91999.
The American Red Cross has been on the ground in Flint since the crisis came to public consciousness, delivering bottled water and filters to communities impacted. Hundreds of Red Cross volunteers have aided in the Flint area since then, with the organization boasting more than 30,000 households aided through their work.
“The Red Cross honors donor intent,” a representative tells Mashable. “Donations made in support of a specific disaster will be used for that disaster.”
The Flint Water Response Team
If you’re local to the Flint area, the Flint Water Response Team is gathering and dispatching volunteers to distribute water to those affected. To volunteer your time, sign up here.
2. Support local medical and health efforts.
With massive-scale lead poisoning, health services are essential. Both long-term and short-term medical access, especially catering to children, is needed for those living in Flint due to the irreversible effects of lead poisoning. For a low-income community, supplementing the costs of these services is especially important, with one organization in particular stepping up to help.
The Flint Child Health & Development Fund, created by the Community Foundation of Greater Flint, is collecting donations to support the ongoing health needs of children 6 years and younger who have been poisoned by the water supply. The fund will help provide health services to families in the area, many of which are low-income families and already at risk for not receiving adequate care.
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha of Hurley Medical Center, who has been at the forefront of advocacy in the wake of the water crisis, founded the fund, which will serve as a way to supplement aid by state and federal governments to help give low- or no-cost care.
To donate and learn more about the fund, visit here.
3. Support research efforts independently giving knowledge to Flint.
Most cities and towns rely on local governments as reliable sources of information, especially when it comes to public resources like water access. In Flint, the trust between public officials and citizens has been deeply damaged, resulting in understandable distrust. That’s why independent efforts providing comprehensive information on water safety are essential.
The Flint Water Study, an independent research team at Virginia Tech, has been studying Flint’s water since September 2015. Part of the reason the harmful effects of Flint’s water supply came to public knowledge is credited to the team going public with its findings, which many argue pressured local governments to address the problem.
The study intends to empower those in Flint with information about their water supply. The group has analyzed hundreds of lead kits from households in Flint so far, reporting back to those households about what exactly has been in their individual water supply and what concerns they should have.
The Flint Water Study is being funded through a GoFundMe campaign.
4. Help those who are still blocked from accessing clean water.
Even though relief efforts are on the ground, some people can’t access them due to screening restrictions at distribution areas. Many distribution areas have been criticized for not allowing those without state driver licenses or social security numbers to access donated, clean water. This is especially a problem for undocumented populations who often lack this type of paperwork.
Though few people are directly addressing this at-risk population, one organization is doing exceptionally well.
Action of Greater Lansing has an immigrant rights-specific task force, making them well-networked in the area. This is especially important when aiding undocumented communities, as many undocumented individuals are often scared to open their doors for people they do not know in fear of deportation.
Action of Greater Lansing has been doing dedicated outreach work to educate undocumented populations of the severity of the issue, while also delivering water directly to them. To donate to Action of Greater Lansing, visit here and use the memo “Flint Water.”
“We will get it to undocumented immigrants,” Aida Cuadrado, director of Action of Greater Lansing, told PRI. “We give you our word on that.”