"Nothing's changed except the attention has died off," says one Flint resident
Just 1% of the lead service lines in Flint have been replaced
One year ago, the people of Flint, Michigan finally learned the truth about their water: It was tainted with lead and poisoning their kids.
The water crisis has changed Flint. The people living in this financially strapped city are finally getting the attention of key leaders. But there is a depression that has fallen over Flint. Many residents have lost all trust in their officials. They feel stuck and deeply victimized. And many still won’t touch their water.
CNN spent a week with Flint families, officials and whistle-blowers. Here’s what’s changed this past year.
Rosemary Vernon’s home was among those with some of the consistently highest levels of lead. She’s seen some positive changes in Flint since the spring, but she doesn’t trust her water. She said she plans to put her home up for sale.
Rhonda Kelso and her daughter Kaylynn, 13, were among the first residents to sue over the high levels of lead. Kaylynn was getting skin rashes and her hair was falling out in January. Kelso said she is so nervous about the water that she washes clothing at least twice. And daily activities, like brushing teeth, depend on bottled water deliveries.
The latest round of water testing showed Voil String’s home had the highest levels of lead in the city – and he had no idea. String, who is visually impaired, mostly relies on the television for news about the water.
Delano Whidbee and his two daughters, Madisen, 2, and Makenzie, 9 months, say they have “no choice but to trust the filtered water” for washing and bathing, but they still use bottled water for nearly everything, and fill up at least two trash bags each week.
Dr. Mona Hanna Attisha is the pediatrician who noticed rising levels of blood lead levels in Flint’s children, provoking the governor to acknowledge the crisis last year. Today she prefers to focus on the positive changes in Flint.
The percentage of kids in Flint with elevated lead levels has decreased. But lead does not stay detectible in blood for long, and the effects of lead poisoning are lasting, long after it’s undetectable.
Lee Anne Walters’ home was the first in Flint to register high lead levels. She called the EPA for help and spent sleepless nights doing her own research. She eventually became a leading advocate in Flint.
But it was her twin boys, Garrett and Gavin, who were always her biggest concern. Garrett had high levels of lead in his blood when tested last year, and he hasn’t grown much in two years. She says both boys have issues with speech and hand-eye coordination and have had to re-learn their ABCs.
These Flint youngsters – Zaquiese Pettigrew, Mal’ikye Bradshaw, Mari Bradshaw and Jamarri Granberry – immediately associate “water” with “bad.” But it doesn’t get them down.
The financially strapped city doesn’t have the money to remove the lead services lines.
Mayor Karen Weaver decided to devote all of a $2 million refund from the state to at least start the process in March. Since then, state lawmakers have budgeted an additional $25 million for service line replacement – a fraction of what the mayor has estimated full infrastructure replacement will cost. Congress hasn’t approved federal aid.
One year ago, Flint Community Schools had just one nurse for all schools. The school system now has 10, one for each building.
The state says water distribution centers and delivery services have provided more than 1.5 million cases of water and 123,000 filters since January. However, the ACLU and a few local groups say water distribution is inadequate.
An average of 150 cases per day are delivered to the homes of Flint residents who can’t pick up water themselves, according to the Michigan Works program.
Despite dips at the end of 2015, the median home price in Flint stayed about the same. The average home price is valued at $30,000, compared to $29,400 last year.
However, it’s impossible to drive down a single block in Flint and not find an abandoned home. At 15.5%, Flint remains the highest in the nation for vacancies. The national average is 1.6%. Almost 58,000 homes in Flint are empty.
Nine state and local officials have been charged so far as part of the Flint water crisis criminal investigation. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says he won’t stop until he is satisfied he has followed all the leads and has all the facts.
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Schuette says there are two more high-ranking officials who he suspects of ordering a cover-up of data showing there was a water crisis in Flint.
“We’re going up the chain,” Schuette says. “We’re just going where the truth takes us. Period.”