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Canadians offering help to Flint, Mich., during its drinking water crisis

Spitfires Daniel Dobrich, left, and Nathan Sellon help in loading up donated water bottles destined for the town of Flint, MI, on January 22, 2016, at the Windsor Family Credit Union Centre, in Windsor, Ontario.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Windsor Spitfires
January 23, 2016 - 7:00 AM

Two Ontario cities are offering to help the citizens of Flint, Mich., a poor, largely minority city where the high level of lead in drinking water has caused a public health crisis.

People in Windsor, Ont., have donated some 50,000 bottles of water in response to a call by the city's junior hockey team. The Windsor Spitfires launched the water drive Thursday during a game against the Flint Firebirds.

The idea came from a family that hosts one of the hockey team's players. The team thought they'd collect some water and throw it onto the fan bus that was headed to Flint for a game on Saturday, said team spokesman David Ducharme.

"And then this thing absolutely snowballed," Ducharme said. Now they need two tractor-trailer loads to deliver the water.

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens is proud of his city's reaction to the crisis that is occurring just 100 kilometres away.

"This, to me, is one of those human situations that if there is something we can do to help, we are absolutely willing to step up and play a part because we all understand that clean drinking water is a fundamental right in our society," Dilkens said.

High levels of lead have been detected in Flint's drinking water since officials began drawing from the Flint River as a cost-saving measure in 2014. Some children's blood has tested positive for lead, a potent neurotoxin linked to learning disabilities, lower IQ and behavioural problems.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has come under fire for what some political observers have called environmental racism — Flint is 57 per cent black, and 42 per cent of its people live in poverty.

The mayor of Hamilton — Flint's Canadian sister city — has written to his American counterpart to offer technical expertise in dealing with the drinking water disaster.

"We've had lead water issues, like most cities have had, and we just wanted to make sure they were aware if they needed any technical assistance or any public health assistance that we'd be happy to offer that up," Fred Eisenberger said in an interview.

Eisenberger explained Hamilton implemented a lead pipe replacement program for home owners and an anti-corrosion program that seals in any possible leaching of lead from old pipes into the water supply.

"It has been very successful. We can certainly provide any assistance and thoughts and ideas about how it went for us and how they might be able to incorporate that," Eisenberger said.

Both Canadian mayors said the situation in Flint has caused each to examine their own water systems to ensure a similar disaster couldn't happen in their cities.

"I think most municipalities have to continue to be highly aware of their water regime. Testing is critical — not once in a while, but everyday," Eisenberger said.

"It is a resource that needs to be treated like gold and in fact it's becoming more and more valuable each and every day."

Windsor's mayor said he ordered a report on his city's water system as soon as he heard about the Flint emergency.

"So it's positive to reassure our public that that's not something that can happen in our community because we have safeguards that are in place," Dilkens said.

— with files from The Associated Press

News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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