President Barack Obama visited Flint, Michigan, on Wednesday and drank a glass of water to assure residents their taps are safe as long as they use filters.
Flint’s drinking water has been contaminated with lead, a deadly neurotoxin, for two years thanks to the government’s failure to treat the water correctly. Obama said he realized Flint residents were still suspicious, but emphasized that the Environmental Protection Agency has said filters can remove the lead.
“Filtered water is safe, and it works,” Obama said, according to a pool report from reporters on the scene at a food bank. “Working with the state and the city, filters are now available for everyone in the city.”
Reporters asked if a glass of water in front of Obama was from Flint, and he said it was before taking a sip.
“Generally, I haven’t been doing stunts, but here you go,” he said, adding that he trusted the science saying the filters work and that the EPA deemed filtered water safe for everyone except pregnant women and children younger than 6.
(Obama actually pulled a similar “stunt” at the height of the 2014 Ebola panic, when the president hugged and kissed nurses returning from Ebola-ravaged West Africa, which public health officials said was a safe thing to do even as Republican governors were quarantining health workers.)
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) started drinking Flint’s water last month in an effort to reassure residents and to encourage them to use their taps as long as filters are in place. Snyder’s office said Tuesday it hoped Obama would also have a drink.
On Wednesday, Obama praised the EPA, as well as Snyder and Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, for their response to the water crisis.
The city’s water soured in 2014 after state regulators mistakenly said it didn’t need the kind of chemical treatment public water systems typically use to prevent lead from leaching from water pipes that connect street mains to people’s homes.
Snyder’s government denied there was a problem with the city’s water until research showed in October that Flint children had higher amounts of lead in their blood, likely as a result of the water issues. Lead can cause brain damage in children and a variety of health problems in adults, including high blood pressure.
Obama said “kids are resilient” and that a lot of people in previous generations, including himself, were exposed to lead before scientists understood how dangerous it could be. He also urged parents to get their children tested for lead.