Flint water crisis: sister city Hamilton offers help

Flint, Michigan is in a desperate and dangerous crisis, its water contaminated by lead. Hamilton, Flint's Canadian sister city, has offered to help.

The mayor says Hamilton is just waiting to hear back from Flint on what it needs

LeeAnne Walters of Flint, Mich., shows water samples from her home. Since Flint broke away from the Detroit water system last year, residents have been unhappy with the smell, taste and appearance of water from the city's river. (Ryan Garza/Detroit Free Press/Associated Press)

Flint, Michigan is in a desperate and dangerous crisis, its water contaminated by lead.

Hamilton, Flint's Canadian sister city, has offered to help.  

Mayor Fred Eisenberger wrote a letter this week to see how Hamilton can support Flint, which is under a state of emergency over its toxic water.

Hamilton and Flint are officially paired through Sister Cities International, and their youth have competed against each other every year for the last 58 years in the CANUSA Games athletic contest. 

Hamilton wants to help, Eisenberger said in his letter to Flint mayor Karen Weaver.

"We cannot help but be moved by the difficult circumstances of the city's recent emergency," he wrote. "Truly for your city, these are the times that try men's souls."

Flint, to me, was an extension of the city.- Sam Merulla, Hamilton city councillor

Flint officials have responded, Eisenberger said on Wednesday. Now Hamilton is just waiting for word on how exactly it can help.

Meanwhile, Coun. Sam Merulla of Ward 4 said he's gathering local business people willing to pitch in for Flint — in whatever form that might take.

Merulla says both he and his daughter participated in the CANUSA Games when they were younger, so the crisis moved him.

"Flint, to me, was an extension of the city and an annual event," he said.

The Flint water crisis started in April 2014. City officials cut ties with Flint's former water source, the Detroit Water and Sewerage system, which took water from Lake Huron. Instead, the city hooked up its municipal water system to the Flint River. That was supposed to be temporary switch until the city transitioned to a new regional water authority, the Karegnondi system.

But residents soon complained about the cloudiness, colour, taste and smell of their new tap water. Some complained of rashes, hair loss, headaches and other ailments.

Within four months of the changeover, tests of local samples detected fecal coliform bacteria and alarming levels of potentially harmful chemical compound trihalomethanes (THMs), a byproduct of chlorine.

Water from the Flint River is also more corrosive and eats away at the pipes, resulting in lead that eventually leached into the tap water.

The crisis has caused political tension in Michigan. There have been calls for the resignation of Governor Rick Snyder. On Sunday, President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in the city, releasing $5 million in federal aid.

Merulla said he and the mayor started talking last Thursday about how Hamilton could help. On Wednesday, Coun. Matthew Green of Ward 3 prompted city council to vote to formally offer support for Flint.

Hamilton has had its own troubles with lead in the water, Eisenberger said in his letter to Weaver. The city implemented a lead service replacement program for homeowners. Public health officials have done blood lead studies and extensive public education. Most recently, he said, city council directed staff to introduce a corrosion control program.

"Consequently, we wish to extend an offer of any assistance we might be able to provide the city," he wrote.


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