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Judge Orders Michigan, Flint To Deliver Bottled Water To Residents


In Michigan, a federal judge has issued a ruling ordering state and city officials to provide people in Flint with reliable access to clean water. That means if a home doesn't have a good water filter installed, the city and state will have to deliver bottled water door to door. In the last year since state officials acknowledged the water crisis, people in Flint have picked up free bottled water from distribution sites around the city. The judge says that's not enough.

Melissa Mays was one of the plaintiffs on the case. Earlier today, I asked her how her friends and neighbors are reacting to the news.

MELISSA MAYS: They're excited because so many people I know still deliver water for their relatives because they can't get out to get it themselves. And each case of water weighs 26-and-a-half pounds. And...

SHAPIRO: You know the exact weight (laughter).

MAYS: Yes, we do. Yes, we do. And if it's a larger than 24-bottle case, that's 40 pounds or more. And I've seen way too many people stop at a bus stop and just leave the cases because they can't carry them up the bus steps because they're elderly or they're sick.

And so people are excited because then, you know, they won't have to make that choice. Do I leave the house today and carry one bottle or one case of water home, which may not even be enough, or do I just drink out of the tap because I don't have the energy to do anything else? And so now this will put a stop to that, so we're pretty excited.

SHAPIRO: And so what do you expect the immediate impact of this ruling to be for your family?

MAYS: For our family, well, since they reduced the hours and number of days that you can pick up water at the distribution sites, we'll be able to breathe easy. My husband will be able to actually eat lunch on his lunch hour instead of actually having to go get water.

SHAPIRO: And are you still using bottled water to bathe, to cook, to do everything?

MAYS: Bathing - we don't get enough water for that, so we still have to try to shower safely or skip showers. But if water's going to be delivered to our house, we're going to actually be able to bathe our kids in some bottled water. And I think that will help cut down on their rashes and their breathing problems.

SHAPIRO: How are you and your family dealing with the possible health effects of the lead?

MAYS: We take our kids to different specialists. My son just had a growth removed from his tongue, and it came back benign - thank goodness. But we don't know the cause of it. My husband's got to go in for an upper GI and lower because he's having the same stomach problems as I am. And they actually removed polyps from my stomach and colon because of bacteria in the water.

So it is an overall nightmare when it comes to physical health, and that's not even talking about the emotional health, the stress and the anger and the frustration of living through this. It's so difficult. And as time goes on and the help's not there, it's just getting worse.

SHAPIRO: It's been more than a year since the state first acknowledged this problem. Are you surprised at how long it's gone on?

MAYS: Absolutely. I am disappointed that it's taken a year in federal court to tell them, hey, there are people suffering, and this isn't right. And you need to get water to the people who can't get out to get it themselves. And it's disheartening because this is an uphill battle.

This was just a preliminary injunction part of our lawsuit. We still have the rest of it to go where we are demanding more service lines be replaced at a faster rate because we aren't moving fast enough at all. And my water is now brown. It has never been brown. So things are getting worse, yet the fix is not coming quick enough to stop it.

SHAPIRO: How long do you think it'll be until there is a good long-term solution?

MAYS: Well, if we have to keep going to court to demand that the right changes be made and that we get the help that we deserve, it's going to take a very long time. So this was a bit of good news, but it's still not enough. It's just another Band-Aid in this huge, gaping wound.

SHAPIRO: That's Melissa Mays, one of the plaintiffs in the clean drinking water lawsuit in Flint, Mich. Thank you for joining us.

MAYS: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: And in a statement, Flint's mayor, Karen Weaver, says the city will do everything it can to abide by the judge's order. Still, the mayor calls it a temporary fix and says, quote, "we can't rely on bottled water forever." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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