Barack Obama made the trip to the mostly African-American community even as he predicted it would take more than two years to replace the city’s aging pipes, Reuters reports.
Flint, with a population of about 100,000, was under control of a state-appointed emergency manager in 2014 when it switched its water source from Detroit’s municipal system to the Flint River to save money. The city switched back in October.
The river water was more corrosive than the Detroit system and caused more lead to leach from its aging pipes. Lead can be toxic, and children are especially vulnerable.
“This was a man made disaster. This was avoidable. This was preventable,” Obama told a crowd at a local high school. “Flint’s recovery is everybody’s responsibility, and I’m going to make sure that responsibility is met.”
The president urged parents to ensure their children were tested for lead and said residents should run their taps frequently to flush out remaining pollutants.
Obama, going off his prepared remarks, told members of the community that their anger was understandable, but he urged them not to let their children believe they would be hurt for life.
“You should be angry, but channel that anger. You should be hurt, but don’t sink into despair,” he said. “Do not somehow communicate to our children here in this city that they’re going to be saddled with problems for the rest of their lives. Because they will not. They’ll do just fine.”
The EPA, whose budget has been squeezed by Congress, acknowledges there are issues with its lead and copper rule that need to be addressed to prevent similar crises in other cities. The agency has said it would propose changes to the rule early next year.