In April 2014, levels of lead in the drinking water of Flint, Michigan began to rise due to corroding of service lines caused by an untreated water supply as the city of Flint decided to switch the water supply from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) to the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA) in an attempt to save the city money.
Although the residents of Flint almost immediately began to complain about discolored water, it wasn’t until Aug. 17, 2015 that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) ordered Flint to improve the corrosion control treatment in the water supply after studies from the first six months of 2015 revealed elevated lead levels. Many City and State officials denied there was a problem for months some even going as far drinking the water on TV to prove it was “safe” such as Mayor Dayne Wallings.
According to the EPA, “young children, infants, and fetuses are particularly vulnerable to lead because the physical and behavioral effects of lead occur at lower exposure levels in children than in adults.” Some of the health effect include behavior and learning problems, lower IQ and hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems, anemia and in rare cases lead consumption can lead to seizures and death.
Following an independent probe that placed blame on state officials, several lawsuits were filled against several officials and 2 corporations. Early in 2017, a $722 Million class action lawsuit was against the EPA on behalf of over 1,500 residents affected by the water crisis.
In March of 2017, the state of Michigan approved spending of $87 million in their latest attempt to solve the problem. The plan is to replace nearly 18,000 pipes over the next 3 year and 6,000 pipes this year alone. One of the four companies contracted is WT Stevens, a black owned general contractor based in Flint, Michigan.
As the bidding process began for the contract, WT Stevens, due to their background and previous work, saw the opportunity to be a part of the solution to the water crisis. For some like lifelong resident and Vice President of WT Stevens Rhonda Grayer, the project hits close to home.
“I feel like this is personal to me because I have family members that live inside the city of flint and that are impacted by the water,” Vice President Rhonda Grayer said. ” My business is in the city of flint and i grew up in the city of flint, so it feels very personal to me.”
As a relatively small contractor taking on a big project, WT Stevens had to expand to reach the capabilities required for the contract.
“We hired probably 20 to 30 employees and we hired probably 70% of those were from the city of Flint,” Grayer said. “We felt like we had provided some opportunities for local families. A number of these people are second chance, so many wouldn’t have had a chance to not only be a part of a project of this magnitude and helping there community but having a job with good wages.”
Other News Sources Coverage of the Story and Additional Details on the Water Crisis: