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Flint Resident Still Skeptical Of Tap Water Even After The City Checked Her Pipes


We have an update now on a story that we've been following for more than three years. In February of 2016, I went to Flint, Mich., where I visited Jeneyah McDonald and her family at home. Like the rest of Flint, she was using bottled water to bathe, drink and cook.


JENEYAH MCDONALD: I started my chicken off this morning with about eight bottles of water to start to thaw it out.

SHAPIRO: Improperly treated water had corroded the city's pipes that leached lead into the water that came out of the tap. Jeneyah and her husband have two sons, Justice and Josiah. When I first met them, they were 6 and 2, and she had taught them not to turn on the faucet.


MCDONALD: What'd I tell you about that water?

JUSTICE: It's poison.

MCDONALD: It's poison.

SHAPIRO: As the years went by, the state of Michigan insisted the water was safe and stopped distributing bottled water. People in Flint, including the mayor, didn't believe it. When I went back last October, Justice was 9 years old and hadn't had a drink from the tap in years.


JUSTICE: Why does the pipes break in Flint and in others they don't?

SHAPIRO: Jeneyah gave him a level-headed answer and then privately broke down when we were alone.


MCDONALD: How do I think a government that's predominantly white, how do they - they show me what they feel about me and us here in Flint. They showed us.

SHAPIRO: This week, she sent me a message with some news, so we've called up Jeneyah again. Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

MCDONALD: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: So what is the news?

MCDONALD: Well, I was very excited. I woke up one morning and saw all of these trucks in front of my house and a digger. I thought we were finally going to get our pipes replaced, but that was not the case.

SHAPIRO: Explain.

MCDONALD: They discovered that the pipes that were in the front of our house leading to the street were copper, and they looked at our pipes in the house, and they discovered those, too, were copper. And they went back outside and proceeded to cover the hole back up and said, we won't be doing any replacement here.

SHAPIRO: You had been waiting for years for this visit and the visit happened And now?

MCDONALD: Now nothing. I just got my pretty yard destroyed, basically.

SHAPIRO: Does it give you any reassurance to know that your pipes are copper and not lead?

MCDONALD: No, none whatsoever.

SHAPIRO: Why not?

MCDONALD: I just feel like the right thing to do is to replace everybody's pipes regardless. It leaves for nothing else but a peace of mind.

SHAPIRO: Is there any test that could be done on your water, any reassurance you could get from an expert that would restore your faith in this system?

MCDONALD: I doubt it. I doubt it. It - so much damage has been done. I just - I don't trust it. I - even when I went out of town for spring break, I found myself using bottled water to brush my teeth. It's such a habit now. It's part of my life now. So I don't think it's going to change.

SHAPIRO: How many people in Flint do you think feel this way? When you talk to neighbors and friends, is that pretty common?


SHAPIRO: I could imagine people listening to this and saying, look; I understand the trust has been damaged, but if they tell you that the pipes are copper and you test the water and it comes out clean, what more can they do?

MCDONALD: You're right. I guess there's nothing more they can do. But trust is a hard thing to gain back. So for my own, protecting my family, I choose to use bottled water.

SHAPIRO: The first time I talked to you, you said you wanted to stay in Flint and make the city better. And then over the years, you thought maybe it would be difficult to sell the house. And there were reasons it would be tough to move away. How are you feeling about that now?

MCDONALD: Flint is home. It's hard to say that I want to move. My family is here. My friends are here. My children - this is home for them. So for me, I would love to make change in this city. You know, I can see where our city is banding together, and we are trying to just fight against the odds.

SHAPIRO: Jeneyah McDonald, thank you for speaking with us once again.

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