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Federal Emergency Declaration Issued Over Flint's Water To End Soon


The city of Flint, Mich., passes a milestone in a few days - a federal state of emergency formally expires. So let's ask what's changed and what has not in a years-long water crisis. You will recall that this city's water supply was switched to a new and corrosive source. Residents suffered horrifying health problems. And though the water source was switched back, corroded pipes still contaminate the water. Today, Karen Weaver is the mayor of Flint in power since the start of this year. And one part of her life has not changed.

KAREN WEAVER: I use bottled water in my home, you know, and that's one of the problems that we've talked about. I know the record came out and said filters were safe to use, but we have some people that live in homes like myself where the filters don't fit on the faucets. And so we use bottled water.

INSKEEP: Are you at least able to bathe in the water now because there was, as you know very well, concern even about bathing in it at one time?

WEAVER: Well - and a lot of people have those concerns about bathing and showering. And I know that there have been reports that have said that's OK as well, but people have been more comfortable using the filters for their showers. And we've been trying to get those provided.

INSKEEP: Is there a real concern, or is that just a matter of people's comfort level?

WEAVER: You know what? That's a real concern to me, even if that's what it is, is comfort level, because that's one of the things that we've talked about all of this time, is the only way people will truly feel comfortable is when we have new pipes in place. And whether it's perceived or real, your perception is your reality.

INSKEEP: You know, the lifting of the state of emergency makes it sound like things have now improved in Flint. What's better?

WEAVER: Well, you know what? That was why we thought this should be more than an emergency because we still can't drink the water. And any time you can't just turn on your tap and drink the water, you have a problem. Some of the things that are different from when this first started is things are, I would say, more organized as far as the distribution of the water and the filters.

We have more school nurses in place than we had. When this first started, we only had one in place, and now we have nine. We've been able to hook up young people to employment opportunities where we had the National Guard doing things before. We have so many young people that were unemployed and weren't in school and that should be part of this process of healing their own community.

And so what we've done is employed them to do the water distribution. We're employing them to deliver the food. And we've also been able to hook some of them up with the plumbers and pipefitters and other kinds of, I guess, trade jobs where they can be in an apprenticeship program and get paid and have a skill that no one can take from them.

INSKEEP: Let me ask you about your relations with the state and federal government at this point. Some people will recall that Michigan Governor Rick Snyder was heavily criticized for the state's role in the water crisis. He's been on this program defending himself. People have demanded that he resign. He's still there. Does he take your calls?

WEAVER: Oh, yeah, he takes my calls.

INSKEEP: How often do you talk?

WEAVER: As often as we need to, actually. It just depends on what's going on.

INSKEEP: How's he doing right now?

WEAVER: Well, the last time I saw him he looked like he was OK.

INSKEEP: Oh, I meant - forgive me. How's he...

WEAVER: (Laughter).

INSKEEP: How's he doing at providing services to Flint or helping Flint right now?

WEAVER: Well, you know, like I said, we always say we deserve more than what we've gotten thus far. And that's been one of the issues. We don't think that we've gotten everything that the citizens deserve as a result of what has happened. We've been able to make some inroads, but it hasn't been enough, and it hasn't been fast enough.

INSKEEP: Can you be specific to the governor there? Is he, in your estimation, doing everything that he can for you?

WEAVER: We'll find out. We'll find out. You know, we got the $25 million, but that's dedicated specifically for infrastructure. We know we need much more money to deal with this issue. And so we'll see if actually puts his money where his mouth is and we get these other things that we need.

INSKEEP: That's state money, the $25 million.


INSKEEP: Now, I understand that some members of Congress have asked for hundreds of millions of dollars for...

WEAVER: That's right, and we're waiting for it. We need money from not only the state. We need money from the federal government as well. Everybody played a role in this disaster and need to be held accountable and responsible and get Flint citizens what we deserve. This is way too long. We should not be in year three and we cannot drink our water.

INSKEEP: I just want to make sure that everybody agrees on the solution here because we've talked with some officials who have said, listen, you can't replace every pipe in the city. But if you chemically treat the pipes, they will be less corrosive, and they can work. I think I've heard you say you want to replace everything.

WEAVER: That's exactly what I've said. And it goes back to when you were saying about people's comfort level. I believe if I announced today that the pipes were safe, turn on your faucets, there are too many people that wouldn't trust that because the trust has been broken here in Flint. And the trust will be seeing new pipes go into the ground.

INSKEEP: Do you know of anybody this year who's moved into Flint?

WEAVER: I do know people that have moved in and, you know, it's like, wow, thanks. I'm glad you - I'm glad that they did. And some of them knew that we had this water issue. They believe that it's going to be fixed. And one of the things that we've been trying to let people know is Flint is worth moving into, and it's worth the investment, and we're getting this thing taken care of. But we need the state and federal government to do their part.

INSKEEP: Well, Mayor Weaver, it's been a pleasure talking with you. Thanks very much.

WEAVER: OK. Thank you for having me.

INSKEEP: Karen Weaver, mayor of Flint, Mich. Now, later this morning, researchers from Virginia Tech University, who helped bring this issue to national attention, will be releasing the latest test results of the water in Flint. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.