The Walmart Rescue of Flint Michigan
Politicians nearly killed Flint Michigan. The business community made sure that didn’t happen.
We find heroes in places that begin with the letter “C”: the classroom, the combat zone, and the community. Flint Michigan’s water problem had elements of all three as the city turned from a place where people lived to a place where they were literally being poisoned, and finally, to a research laboratory where brave scientists learned the truth. While this was going on. however, the people had no water. That’s where the business community came through.
The backstory is that Flint Michigan was an old automotive town whose condition was familiar to anyone who studies urban decay: a legacy of incompetent labor union policies, inferior infrastructure, and a corrupt local political machine. The consequence was near devastation for the population of half African Americans on the threshold of extreme poverty, and the nearly 10% of the children under the age of five. The media doesn’t care about these kinds of places because people don’t click on stories in what reporters call flyover country.
Until 2014, when Flint tapped into a new water source.
Governor Rick Snyder appointed an emergency manager to oversee spending for the community after the local officials botched things up. By April, the new manager found a way to save money by switching to Flint River water instead of Detroit’s Lake Huron.
It nearly killed the town.
Most people think the quality of Flint water was the problem. That was a media perpetuated myth. The real problem was that Detroit’s water wasn’t pure, but the city added filtration and an anti-corrosive agent and Flint did not. Without that extra step, Flint water was so corrosive that GM complained it was “rusting its parts.” Residents shouted at town meetings that the stuff tasted foul, but their voices were muffled by political wrangling over how the budget was being spent. It was politics as usual and it was toxic.
What the city leaders ignored wasn’t just that the water tasted bad, but that it was contaminated with lead was what the children of Flint were drinking. Children’s systems are especially susceptible to lead poisoning which causes or contribute to lifelong neurological diseases that can lead to hyperactivity, attention deficit disorder, learning and memory difficulties. Baltimore resident Freddie Gray became a victim of the effects of lead poisoning in 2015 when he resisted arrest, which led to massive protests against the city fo Baltimore. The Washington Post reported, “many of (his) problems began when he was a child and living in this house, according to a 2008 lead-poisoning lawsuit filed by Gray and his siblings against the property owner. The suit resulted in an undisclosed settlement.”
The Flint argument would have gone on forever given the politics, but hard evidence was found thanks to the work of two brave environmental scientists. Only the remedy was going to take time. In the interim, what would children drink?
In stepped the business community.
By 2015, during the period in which Flint water was undrinkable, Walmart “sent 14 trucks with half a million bottles so that every resident could have drinking water, and 1,792 water filters.” Beth Harris, store manager at Walmart, said, “The water crisis is personal to us here in Flint. Those affected include our own associates, customers, and their families,” Walmart was not the only member of the business community to come to the aid of Flint’s suffering population. Coca-Cola donated nearly 80,000 bottles of Dasani, Nestlé sent five truckloads or more than 190,000 bottles. PepsiCo donated almost 95,000 bottles of water.
With the help of these businesses, Flint Michigan children were drinking clean water once again: “We are grateful for Walmart and their suppliers’ support during this crisis,” said Bilal Tawwab, Flint Community Schools Superintendent. “With their generous support, District students will have access to clean drinking water, and more importantly, the ability to focus on their education.”
It is not the first nor the last time Walmart has come to the rescue of a community: “Over the past 10 years, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation have provided more than $50 million in response to events such as typhoons in Mexico and the Philippines, tsunamis in Asia, floods in the U.K. and Canada, tornadoes in the U.S., Africa’s Ebola epidemic and many other tragedies.”
The story of Flint is not over. But the tragedy was avoided in part because of the selfless help of a dedicated group of workers and their employer.