Obama made the trip to the mostly African-American community to demonstrate that the water there was safe even as he predicted it would take more than two years to replace the city’s aging pipes.
Flint, with a population of about 100,000, was under control of a state-appointed emergency manager in 2014 when it switched its water source from Detroit’s municipal system to the Flint River to save money. The city switched back in October.
The river water was more corrosive than the Detroit system and caused more lead to leach from its aging pipes. Lead can be toxic, and children are especially vulnerable.
“This was a man-made disaster. This was avoidable. This was preventable,” Obama told a crowd at a local high school. “Flint’s recovery is everybody’s responsibility, and I’m going to make sure that responsibility is met.”
The president urged parents to ensure their children were tested for lead and said residents should run their taps frequently to flush out remaining pollutants.
DRINKS THE WATER
After coughing repeatedly during his remarks, he asked for a glass of water, and drank it in front of the crowd. Earlier he sipped from a glass of filtered Flint water during a meeting with regulators. The White House had said that it did not know if the president would drink filtered Flint water.
Obama said the crisis had resulted from government officials at all levels not paying attention. Questions linger over whether environmental regulators could have acted more urgently to help the city, where more than 40 percent of its residents live in poverty.
Last month, lawyers representing residents of Flint filed a $220.2 million damages claim alleging that negligence on the part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had contributed to dangerous lead levels in the city’s water.
Three Michigan state and local officials were criminally charged in April in an investigation into lead levels in Flint’s water, and the state attorney general said there would be more charges.
Many residents have blamed Michigan’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder, who was greeted by boos from the crowd. “You didn’t create this problem, government failed you,” Snyder said.
Obama, going off his prepared remarks, told members of the community that their anger was understandable, but he urged them not to let their children believe they would be hurt for life.