coordinator with the Flint Democracy Defense League.
professor of civil engineering at Virginia Tech. He led the research team that tested hundreds of water samples from Flint residents, uncovering the city’s lead problem.
Protests are growing in Flint, Michigan, over the state’s cover-up of the ongoing water contamination crisis. Filmmaker Michael Moore is asking fans to sign a petition on his website calling for the immediate resignation of Governor Rick Snyder. In an open letter to the governor, he writes: "[Y]ou have effectively poisoned, not just some, but apparently ALL of the children in my hometown of Flint, Michigan. And for that, you have to go to jail." We speak to Nayyirah Shariff, coordinator with the Flint Democracy Defense League.
AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s go to Nayyirah Shariff. You’re with Flint Democracy Defense League. What does democracy have to do with clean water?
NAYYIRAH SHARIFF: Well, our—Snyder has been trampling our democracy for years, really ever since he’s been in office, and specifically since Flint has had an emergency manager in December 2011. And our City Council wanted to go back to Detroit, and our emergency manager, Jerry Ambrose, said it was inconceivable because it was going to cost too much money. And the culture of the emergency manager is money trumps everything. It’s more important than people’s lives. This is—we don’t know what the costs of this is going to be. Like, Karen Weaver said it was going to be $1.5 billion, but that’s just the infrastructure. That’s not the medical costs it’s going to take for people to survive like through their lifetime of care.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, when you say Karen Weaver, you mean the new mayor, the first woman mayor, of Flint, who, as soon as she was elected, declared a state of emergency, which has brought the crisis of the Flint water supply to the attention of the nation. In December, she announced a state of emergency. She was yesterday standing with Governor Snyder. So, right now, Nayyirah Shariff, do you have any confidence that the water is safe? And given that so much of the testing shows it isn’t, that many children have been permanently damaged by the lead, have been permanently lead poisoned, do people have access to clean water? How are they drinking? How are they bathing?
NAYYIRAH SHARIFF: Well, people are doing what they have been doing—what they have been doing, and that’s purchasing bottled water. If they’re able to get a filter, they’re using that. Or they’re heating up bottled water. Or—
AMY GOODMAN: The question is how to get the bottled water. Yesterday on NBC, a reporter was interviewing Reverend Bobby Jackson of the Mission of Hope shelter, and he said that he had been getting some bottled water, you know, charitable contributions, but he was all out. And the reason the reporter went to him is because the city said, "I don’t know where you can get this bottled water." I mean, if you don’t have money, how do you get the water?
NAYYIRAH SHARIFF: Well, actually, Pastor Bobby Jackson—the Flint Democracy Defense League has Pastor Bobby Jackson as emergency relief site, and we actually started it because people were—they did not have access to water. Their water was shut off, because we pay one of the highest rates in the nation. And it’s totally like there are no, really, like, relief sites. Like, it’s all charitable contributions. And like, as volunteers, we really don’t have the capacity, and we don’t have the space or warehouses or forklifts, like even though now we have a lot of interest and people wanting to send us water. But we’re all kind of volunteers, so we don’t really have like a space to store, you know 500, 600 cases of water. And hopefully, with the state of emergency resources, we can have, you know, like the first responders step up with that. But it’s all been people just kind of doing it all on their own.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, there has just been announced a federal investigation into what has taken place here. About the same day when Governor Snyder learned this, he announced a state of emergency. There are calls not only for—a demand for clean water, but—and for the governor to be investigated, but some are calling for him to be arrested. What do you feel, Nayyirah?
NAYYIRAH SHARIFF: Well, I feel like—I feel like he should be arrested. He should be impeached—whatever comes where we can get some sort of justice, because we haven’t had justice. Snyder’s apology happened three months after he—after we went back to Detroit. And we don’t know when he actually knew that there was an issue with Flint’s water. So he can take his apology and flush it down the toilet.
AMY GOODMAN: Just two weeks ago, on December 22nd, Brad Wurfel, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, MDEQ, was presented with documents acquired by Virginia Tech’s Marc Edwards, and denied the connection between Flint’s water and high blood lead levels. This is Wurfel speaking by phone to a reporter with Flint’s NBC affiliate.
BRAD WURFEL: I’m saying that there’s a difference between blood lead levels and water lead levels—different testing, different sampling, different things. These are apples and cars.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Marc Edwards, can you respond to this?
MARC EDWARDS: Well, it was really shocking, after all that occurred, to hear Mr. Wurfel say that. So, you know, I hope he was taken out of context. But on the other hand, it does sort of illustrate the state’s sort of illogic throughout this whole event, especially this small cadre of MDEQ employees who have misled really everyone, including—as a result of that email that was sent, the state did a quick assessment of what was occurring in the blood lead of Flint’s children, and they found increased levels after the switch, but they didn’t believe the results, because, at least according to my interpretation, MDEQ was insisting that there was nothing wrong with the water. So, this small group of employees has really tried to head off every effort to protect Flint’s children, whether it came from outside or inside the state government.
AMY GOODMAN: Marc Edwards, what needs to be done to clean the water right now? How can people feel that the water they’re getting is safe? Flint has reconnected to Detroit’s water supply now.
MARC EDWARDS: Yes. And so, you know, the harm that was done to Flint’s children and to their pipe system really cannot be undone. I think everything that’s been done recently to reduce the corrosivity of water is what needs to be done. It’s not until, however, Flint passes a federal Lead and Copper Rule sampling, that actually follows the law—the last two sampling events broke the law in many different ways; that’s another thing that allowed the state to say the water was safe when it wasn’t—until that happens, no one can really assess the safety of Flint’s water. Our position is that until they pass a legal Lead and Copper Rule monitoring round, the water has to be assume unsafe.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Nayyirah, what does the state of emergency mean, that the governor of Michigan has declared?
NAYYIRAH SHARIFF: Well, right now, the state is taking the lead on this. And in many ways, it feels somewhat abusive, because the state was responsible for the injury to Flint’s residents, and now we have to go to our abuser for treatment. So, while I hope that, you know, at some point very quickly, the federal government can intervene, residents in Flint, like, we have no trust with the state.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you all for being with us. Of course, we’ll continue to follow this story. Nayyirah Shariff of the Flint’s Democracy Defense League, joining us from Detroit; Curt Guyette of the ACLU of Michigan and independent reporter; and Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech, thanks so much.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, stunning developments in Guatemala. Stay with us.