FLINT, Mich. — As a state of emergency continues here due to a water contamination crisis, area school bus drivers and other school employees are delivering water and filters to residents throughout the city.
For the last three weeks, bus drivers for Gennessee Intermediate School District in Flint have transported the supplies out of five of its regional garages to every family with a student at the district. Drivers are also bringing water and filters to residents who do not have students attending the district’s schools and do not have a car, said Chad Sexton, director of transportation services, Genesee Intermediate School District. In that time, the drivers have transported about 1,000 cases of water, while other district employees are also installing the filters as needed.
“Superintendent Dr. Lisa Hagel is leading the charge as far as making sure every home has a filter on it,” Sexton noted.
The city recently drew national attention for lead contamination in its water after it switched its water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River in April 2014, as a cost-cutting measure. After residents voiced concerns over the appearance, smell and taste of the water, tests revealed it to be highly corrosive, according to CNN. Because so many service lines to Flint are made of lead, the noxious element leached into the water of the city's homes, and although the city switched back to the Lake Huron water supply in October, the damage was already done to the lead pipes, CNN reports.
Last week, the Michigan legislature approved $30 million in supplemental aid to assist Flint residents with their water bills, the Associated Press reports. The bill was sent to Gov. Rick Snyder for his signature.
The state is now handing out filters and bottled water with help from the National Guard, which contacted the district’s transportation department for assistance. In addition to transporting the supplies while they drive their routes, many bus drivers and aides are volunteering their own time to distribute the water and filters. School transportation office employees have helped coordinate the efforts.
Target has donated $75,000 to the cause, according to the district's school board, and celebrities have donated truckloads of water, Sexton said. However, he thinks the heroes are the people who are on the ground every day helping out.
“For me, the credit really goes to the drivers and the aides who are out there every single day making the water available on their buses, not only to our students who are Flint residents, but any of the neighbors,” Sexton said.
Additionally, Thomas Built Buses has reached out with ongoing donations of water from its employees, so far filling the nine school buses that the district has ordered with about 2,700 cases of water, primarily from Thomas Built employee donations.
The crisis has affected the entire city, not just low-income residents, and there is widespread concern about the long-term effects of the exposure. For Sexton, who is also a Flint resident, the crisis particularly hit home after his son inexplicably passed out on Thanksgiving morning, and he had to take him to the emergency room. Tests found no cause for the incident, and his son quickly recovered, but it prompted Sexton to do some research on lead exposure.
“The more research I did, the more I found out about how it can have neurological effects,” he explained. “A perfectly healthy boy, then all of a sudden this wacky thing happens. It’s just unexplainable. You get everything from rashes to behavioral issues, which we haven’t seen personally, but then we had this experience.”
Meanwhile, the school district is providing showering facilities and washing machines for students because many parents are concerned about skin rashes from unfiltered water, and are not showering their children at home or washing their clothes.