The Flint, Michigan water crisis has put the spotlight on the entire state, as media and residents in the area look for someone accountable and wonder how a situation could have gone so badly, so quickly.
It’s not only residents in Flint, however. Businesses have been crippled by the lack of clean water, shutting down countless operations while the lead and chloride flow freely through Flint water pipes. But, General Motors spared itself over what could have been something truly disastrous for the automaker and its Flint-based assemblies.
According to a report from Automotive News, GM had a major red flag back in 2014 with its water supply. After making the switch to Flint River water that same year, union employees noticed corrosion of engine blocks.
“The water was rusting the [engine] blocks,” Dan Reyes, president of UAW Local 599, which represents the plant’s nearly 900 workers, said. The super-high levels of chloride in the water was causing corrosion when it came in contact with materials.
In December of 2014, GM made a grand move: it stopped the flow of Flint River water, and switched to a fresh supply from Flint Township, something made possible due to it bordering the township and infrastructure already being in place. The option was not offered to other local businesses or residents.
GM’s problem wasn’t the corroded lead pipes spewing chemicals into fresh water, but the chloride added to break down solids and contaminants. The chloride caused much “visible damage on parts leaving the machining process”, GM spokesman Tom Wickham recalled.
And here we stand today, with a city of around 100,000 brought to its knees. Locals have stocked up on bottled water, and home water filters have flown off shelves.
The UAW itself has stepped up, too, to fill its social responsibility within the community. Hundreds of Flint assembly workers volunteered to deliver cases of bottled water to residents and local community centers.