U.S. President Barack Obama will visit the city of Flint, Michigan, Wednesday to address the city’s water crisis. During his visit, Obama will, in addition to meeting Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, speak to 1,000 people directly affected by the crisis, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said during a press briefing Tuesday.
“He will stop first at the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan, to receive a briefing on the response to the crisis from federal officials and members of the unified command group,” Earnest said. “The president will then take part in a neighborhood roundtable discussion, where he will hear from Flint residents dealing firsthand with the impact of the crisis.”
“At the direction of President Obama, a wide variety of federal agencies have been on the front lines responding to this crisis. FEMA has distributed more than 9 million liters of water and 50,000 water filters. Medicaid coverage has been expanded to everyone under the age of 21 in Flint,” he added.
The president will also meet Mari Copeny — an 8-year-old Flint resident who recently wrote a letter to Obama to voice her concerns about the water contamination and is now known as “Little Miss Flint.”
“I want to make sure people like you and your family are receiving the help you need and deserve. Like you, I’ll use my voice to call for change and help lift up your community,” Obama wrote in response to the letter.
The roots of the crisis in Flint can be traced back to 2013, when the city switched its source of water from Lake Huron to the Flint River. The river water, which had a high concentration of iron and corrosive salts, damaged the city’s plumbing and allowed lead to leach into the water supply.
Last August, researchers from Virginia Tech found elevated levels of lead in the city’s water supply — a finding state officials initially denied. Few months later, children in Flint were found to have dangerously high levels of lead in their blood. Although state authorities switched back to Detroit’s water system in October, many fear that the corroded water pipes are still leaching lead, despite the Environmental Protection Agency’s assessment that filtered water in Flint is safe to drink.
“What the EPA has communicated to the public is that properly filtered water in Flint is safe to drink. So I certainly would encourage people to continue to listen to the advice that they get from our scientific and public health experts about what water is safe to drink, and the president will certain follow that advice,” Earnest said Tuesday, when asked if the president will drink the water in Flint during his visit.
Several Flint residents and state authorities, including Gov. Snyder — who is fending off calls for his resignation — have urged the White House to declare Flint a federal disaster area. However, Federal Emergency Management Agency has repeatedly denied the request, contending that the declaration is only meant for natural disasters.
“It cannot be under the state anymore,” Flint resident Laura MacIntyre told NBC News. “We really need to get it to a federal level to get something done.”