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Erin Brockovich: No quick fix to U.S. water crisis

Los Angeles (CNN) As many as 12,000 children could develop serious health issues in Flint, Michigan, simply because they drank the city’s water.

Politicians are to blame. And the reason why: money.

Flint went broke in 2014. It had outsourced its drinking water to the Detroit Water and Sewage Department. Their water comes from Lake Huron and it’s treated.

The decision was made to pump water from the Flint River. Officials failed to apply corrosion inhibitors causing lead from aging pipes to leach into the city’s water supply.

Now people are getting sick. There’s been an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that’s killed 10 people in the county and affected another 77.

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Well, now, we’re learning new details about how officials in Michigan have dealt with the crisis over the past two years.

The governor has released all of his e-mails about the situation. They include comments from one staffer who says it was the city’s problem — not the state government.

Others seem to dismiss complaints and even call the issue a “political football.”

Meantime, Michigan lawmakers have approved $28 million in emergency funding to deal with the crisis.

But the mayor says fixing the damage to infrastructure and people’s health could cost as much as $1.5 billion.

President Barack Obama addressed the problem during a visit to Detroit. “I am very proud of what I’ve done as President,” Obama said, “but the only job that’s more important to me is the job of father. And I know that if I was a parent up there, I would be beside myself that my kids’ health could be at risk. And that’s why, over the weekend, I declared a federal emergency in Flint to send more resources on top of the assistance that we’ve already put on the ground. We’ve designated a federal coordinator to make sure the people of Flint get what they need from their country.”

Environmental activist joined “CNN Newsroom L.A.” where she told anchor John Vause that this problem is complicated and will take a long time to solve.

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Brockovich: “There is absolutely no quick fix, and them sounding the all call is something the residents don’t trust and we don’t trust. I give an analogy — if you have on a white blouse and you spill red wine and all you can do is dab it out, it could take a month. It’s the same process in Flint. We have to understand that every body of water’s quality is different — state by state, river by river. We can’t just keep switching river waters and switching chemicals and adding and taking away… causing corrosive conditions. It ruins the distribution system. It causes iron and lead to leach out. So there’s not gonna be an overnight fix. There’s no way.”

Vause: “We’re talking years, right?”

Brockovich: “It could be years and we’re talking tens of millions of dollars.”

Vause: “The water was so bad in Flint that GM refused to use it because it was corrosive and it was rusting parts for cars. Who is to blame for this? Who should be held accountable?”

Brockovich: “The emergency city manger and the governor. We were out in Flint a year ago. We actually even wrote a protocol for them on when they switched to the Flint water — the corrosiveness of it and what would happen and how to treat it so this didn’t happen. They knew. They disregarded. The city had gone into bankruptcy and the emergency city manager had an idea on how to save money and it was through the water system. And the governor gave approval. So it’s both of them, I will tell you, to hold accountable for this situation.”

Vause: “I read and CNN has reporter that if they had put an anti-corrosive agent into the water at the cost of $100 a day, most of these problems could have been avoided. Is that accurate?”

Brockovich: “Well, yes, and we gave them a protocol a year ago on how exactly to avoid this disaster… and they did not listen.”

Vause: “So they knew that?”

Brockovich: “They knew that.”

flint water plant

Vause: “Everyone’s looking at Flint right now, finally, even though this has been going on now for more than a year. Clean drinking water in the United States is a big deal problem. We’ve had the Environmental Working Group which found more than six million people are drinking water which is tainted with chemicals used in the manufacture of Teflon. The University of Nebraska found two major aquifers in the Great Plains and California have high levels of natural uranium — but that’s caused by dumping nitrates into the water which sparks the uranium. And then there’s the situation in Stockton, California. There’s concern that ammonia is being added to the water. What’s going on here? How worried should people be?”

brockovich 2Brockovich: “We should be very worried. It is a national water crisis. We are definitely involved in the PFOAs in three different states. Kafo and that type of farming clearly causes nitrates and the runoff. It can go into the water supplies. It can create algae blooms. It can suffocate the municipal system and they have to shut the water down. Stockton, California, is about adding chloramines — which is part of Flint’s problem. We’re having the town hall meeting out there on February 2. We’re working on no less than one hundred — but currently twenty very similar situations, several of them as bad as Flint, and it is happening across the country.”

Vause: “When you say that you’re working on 100 cities like Flint, you’re saying that 100 cities in the United State right now are facing the prospect of having poisoned water coming out of their tap… or they do have it right now?”

Brockovich: “Absolutely. We’ve already been working on and getting the communities to come to us with the brown water that’s full of iron and potentially lead in Tyler, Texas, Hannibal, Missouri, Hugo, Oklahoma, Stockton, California, St. Bernard Parish… we’ve already dealt with Poughkeepsie, New York, where the chloramines destroyed the system… Pittsburgh, it’s all over the United States where people are having to bathe in this, forced to drink it, told that it’s safe and it is a national crisis.”

Vause: “If you’re out there, you’ve got a young kid who is susceptible to lead poisoning, what advice do you give to people right now?”

Brockovich: “Be very vigilant. Be very aware. Be proactive. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you see a change in your water, if you smell a difference in the water, get a hold of your water quality people. If you don’t trust them, e-mail us and find bottled water or another source until you have certainty that the water is safe to drink.”

Written and produced by: Ben Bamsey for “CNN Newsroom L.A.”

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