Politicians want two things: power and your vote. Soon, they won’t need your vote. In William Hart’s documentary, Lead and Copper, Hart examines the political corruption surrounding Flint, Michigan’s contaminated water supply.
From the outside, we’ve known about the water contamination problem of the citizens of Flint. But how they got there is an insidious tale of power and corruption. During the last century, Flint, Michigan, was a thriving city driven by General Motors and the auto industry.
Today, the city is in severe, steady decline. Homes are not worth the value of the cars produced by its citizens. Tax dollars are then shifted away from the poverty-stricken Flint to more affluent counties. The city of Detroit managed the water supply for itself and neighboring cities, including Flint. Detroit began to gouge Flint residents for exorbitantly high water rates.
The feeling was that Flint would manage its own water through the KWA (Karegnondi Water Authority), which would build a pipeline from Lake Heron directly to Flint. As the city began investigating the proposal, Republican governor Rick Snyder was elected and created emergency managers. Appointed by Snyder, these managers had the authority to fire city and county boards, establishing their own government bodies.
After firing the Genesee County Mayor and Board of Supervisors, this unelected board approved the KWA proposal. The problem was that the KWA decided not to build a pipeline from Lake Heron but from Flint’s backup water supply…the Flint River. The Flint River was known as a toxic dumping ground for the auto industry.
“…examines the political corruption surrounding Flint, Michigan’s contaminated water supply.”
It didn’t take too long after the switchover for Flint residents to notice their water turning various shades of yellow and brown. Advisories encouraged parents to give their children bottled water because of the high lead levels in the water. With constant assurances from local and state governments, the people were led to believe that the water was safe and the government would “handle” it. Just by looking at the water, the people knew the government wouldn’t help.
I’ll start by saying Lead and Copper is a pretty one-sided issues documentary: pro-people and anti-government. But documentarian William Hart and his subjects are pretty good at presenting a convincing case.
Along with presenting the history of the problem, Hart goes into other areas. First, the impact lead contamination is having on the average family in Flint. Parents are worried their children will get lead poisoning, which leads to health problems in every area of a child’s physical development. He also goes into an oppressive routine of bathing, cooking, and cleaning with only bottled and filtered water.
Lead and Copper then gets into the issues of government corruption. The federal Environmental Protection Agency oversees the water standards for every county in the nation. Michigan began finding loopholes in EPA regulations to show that Flint and Genesee County water met all minimum standards while actually going over these standards by dozens of times the limit.
Soon, the citizens of Flint were forced to take matters into their own hands, collect their own water samples, and expose the corruption. The entire experience was an eye-opener into how elected public servants are not actually servants of the public. The perceived corruption even went up to the very top…President Obama.
To say that Lead and Copper extensively researched the subject is an understatement. The film presents not just the bloated bureaucracy that stands in the way of a solution but hits the ground into the lives of its citizens who must create a grass-roots level effort to ensure that “Flint Lives Matter” is heard by all levels of government. It’s hard not to root for our fellow Americans in the end.
Lead and Copper screened at the 2023 Detroit Free Press (Freep) Film Festival.
"…the citizens of Flint were forced to take matters into their own hands..."