In October 2014, General Motors recognized the Flint water was corroding its engines. They got permission from the city’s unelected emergency manager—who was appointed by Republican Governor Rick Snyder—to disconnect from Flint’s water and go back to Detroit water. It would be another year before the people of Flint were finally allowed to disconnect from the corrosive Flint River as their water supply and hook up again to the Detroit water system. By then, the Flint River water had corroded the city’s aging pipes, poisoning the drinking water with lead, which can cause permanent developmental delays and neurological impairment, especially in children. We speak with a GM autoworker in Flint about the company’s actions once it realized that Flint’s water was corroding car engines.
Watch more from the Democracy Now! special report “Thirsty for Democracy: The Poisoning of an American City”
AMY GOODMAN: Today, a Democracy Now! special, “Thirsty for Democracy: The Poisoning of an American City.”
AMY GOODMAN: I’m Amy Goodman. We’re in Flint, Michigan. It’s sunset at the Flint Water Plant. I’m standing in front of the Flint water tower. Just down the road is the GM engine plant. It was October of 2014 that GM recognized that the Flint water was corroding its engines. They got permission from the unelected emergency manager of Flint to disconnect from the Flint River and go back to the Detroit water. It would be another year before the people of Flint were finally allowed to disconnect from the corrosive Flint River as their water supply and hook up again with the Detroit water.
We’re going to go talk to a GM worker who works at the plant and worked there at the time that GM recognized—and the state acknowledged—that they could no longer use Flint water because it was destroying the engines.
RONALD JAMISON: My name is Ronald Jamison, known as Coach Hollywood.
AMY GOODMAN: And how long have you worked at the Flint engine plant?
RONALD JAMISON: For 39 years, going on 40 this year.
AMY GOODMAN: So you were working there when Flint hooked up with the Flint River and was disconnected from the Detroit water supply.
RONALD JAMISON: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: What happened at the plant?
RONALD JAMISON: Well, from what I hear, it basically was saying that it was causing corrosion. And what that was causing, they were saying something to the fact that what they were putting in the water. And they were saying we got this stuff called rust inhibitor, that keeps engines from rusting while they’re waiting to have oil put on them. And they went, I guess, tested it and found out, I guess, we were putting too much chlorine in the water. And so they told Flint that we’re not—you’re causing us to lose engines, because we have to tear them down and get the rust out before we put them—send them back.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, the emergency manager gave you a waiver and said you can disconnect from the Flint River and go back to the Detroit water system?
RONALD JAMISON: Well, what they did, they made an agreement, from what I hear, that they could leave, but once we got our water back right, that they would come back.
AMY GOODMAN: And you never got your water right.
RONALD JAMISON: No.
AMY GOODMAN: So, how did you feel? I mean, you were a worker in the plant, but you’re also a Flint resident. And that very water that was causing rust in the engine, you were drinking here in Flint.
RONALD JAMISON: Matter of fact, they took all the water fountains out of the plant. We have all water coolers throughout the plant.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what do you think about this?
RONALD JAMISON: To be serious, I made a joke to one of the supervisors that I was going to sue them, because they knew something had to be wrong and they never said nothing. All they said was “We’re not going to use it.”
AMY GOODMAN: That was Ronald Jamison. His friends call him Hollywood. He has worked at the Flint engine plant for 39 years. So the emergency manager decides that to preserve the engines, the GM plant can switch back to the Detroit water system. But the people of Flint could not.