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Michigan To Pay Flint Residents $600 Million Over The City's Drinking Water

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The state of Michigan has reached a $600 million settlement with residents of Flint over the city's drinking water crisis. The problems began in 2014, when improperly treated water corroded the city's pipes and leached lead into the tap water, making people sick. We wanted to hear what Flint residents thought, so we called up Jeneyah McDonald. She is a substitute teacher and mother of two young boys. When my co-host Ari Shapiro met Jeneyah four years ago, in February 2016, she had taught her boys a really important lesson.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

JENEYAH MCDONALD: What did I tell you about that water? It's poison (laughter).

FADEL: We've continued to check in with her throughout the years, and she joins us again now. Welcome back.

MCDONALD: Thank you.

FADEL: So Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called this a step toward making amends. How do you feel? What's your reaction to the settlement?

MCDONALD: It's like a little ray of sunshine for me and for my family. My biggest fear is that everyone will forget about Flint. It will get swept under the rug. And no one will remember. So I'm very excited to know that our wonderful governor kept her promise about keeping this on her fore part of her mind and that Flint residents matter.

FADEL: Much of the money will be devoted to children who are 6 years or younger when first exposed to the contaminated water. And your sons, Justice and Josaiah, fall into that category. Will you be seeking compensation, and is it enough?

MCDONALD: There is no amount that will be enough ever. If each of us got the 600 million apiece, that still would not replace the damage that was done. I have very close friends who lost parents to Legionnaires. I'm still under the belief that my son's autism is a result of this lead-tainted water.

FADEL: Wow.

MCDONALD: So there is no amount of money that could replace or even try to comfort lifelong things like that.

FADEL: Are you going to seek compensation?

MCDONALD: One hundred percent, yes.

FADEL: And, you know, I've been thinking about this. You haven't been on the program since the pandemic started. And I've really wondered how COVID-19 has impacted you and your neighbors, especially with all this necessary extra handwashing.

MCDONALD: Big, big amount of stress. You already tried to kind of limit how much you were playing or in the water or trying to wash your hands, but now you don't have a choice. I can live with whatever little damage that that lead is possibly doing to my body, ingesting it through my skin, but I can't live through COVID. I have a, you know, a autoimmune disease with my lupus. So I think it will take me out. So I'll take my chances washing my hands with the Flint water versus getting COVID.

FADEL: You know, during that last interview, you told us Flint is home. And you wanted to see change happening in your city. Do you see that change happening?

MCDONALD: Leila - (laughter). Being completely honest, I did with our last administration. We just recently got a new mayor.

FADEL: And you're referring to Flint's mayor, Sheldon Neeley, who came into office in 2019, right?

MCDONALD: Correct. I'm still waiting to see what his term is going to look like.

FADEL: And what do you want?

MCDONALD: I want transparency. I want to know that everyone has safe lines going to their homes. I want to know that everyone have access to water if they don't have safe lines, which - that is gone. And making sure that filters are available. There is nowhere, no one giving out free filters to residents in Flint. All of that stuff stopped. I would love to know that in the future, because of the lead-tainted water, that our children in 10, 15, 20 years will have the support that they need once things start coming out because of this lead. and I don't think that $600 million will cover all of that.

FADEL: Yeah. That's Flint resident Jeneyah McDonald. Thank you so much.

MCDONALD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.