Newspaper article International New York Times

Feeling Trapped in City with Tainted Water

Newspaper article International New York Times

Feeling Trapped in City with Tainted Water

Article excerpt

The drinking water may have exposed tens of thousands of people to lead and other toxic chemicals. But few see a way to pick up and move someplace safe.

Charles White, a carpenter, sat on the couch in the living room of his small bungalow, his gaze fixed on his 5-month-old, Vaughn, nestled in a bouncy chair at his feet.

Mr. White, who has lived in Flint most of his life, said he was at his job the day before when his girlfriend, Tia, called in a panic after coming from the pediatrician. Both of their children have lead poisoning.

"She spent all day crying, trying to figure out how we're going to get out of here," he said softly. "I'm prepared to sell everything I own to get out and save my children."

Yet Mr. White, like many people here, says he is as good as trapped in this poisoned city.

Because the drinking water flowing from their pipes is contaminated, tens of thousands of people here may have been exposed to lead and other toxic chemicals. Untold numbers of them are desperate to leave. But few see a way to pick up and move to a place where the water that flows from the taps is clean and safe.

Homeowners have little hope that they will be able to sell. Renters, like Mr. White, who pays $450 a month for a three-bedroom house, worry about the costs of moving and the difficulties of picking up and starting over in a new place.

"It costs money to move," said Sandra Ballard, a 62-year-old retiree who lives on the impoverished north side of Flint. She said she struggled to pay her $350-a-month rent for a three-bedroom apartment with a patched ceiling. "You've got to put first and last month's rent down. Believe me, I wish I could get out of here."

People in poor and crime-ridden pockets of cities like Detroit and Baltimore often share the sense of being trapped because of market forces and limited resources. But the people of Flint have a special urgency about leaving.

Because of the health crisis stemming from their tainted water, they spend their days dealing with the consequences.

They use bottled water for drinking, washing their hands and preparing food. In between, they shuttle children to pediatricians for blood tests, lug bottled water home from firehouses and install and change water filters on their home faucets. (Even so, city and state officials warned on Friday that lead levels were still so high in some homes that the filters might not be strong enough to be effective.)

Yet many people here have no alternative but to stay.

"I couldn't rent out my house now if I wanted to," said Joyce Cruz, 35, a homeowner and the mother of five. "Who would want to move to Flint?"

Mr. White said he was furious that officials did not take action to address the danger that many residents clearly saw and smelled pouring into their homes. …

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