Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro visited Flint, Michigan this past weekend, becoming the first 2020 presidential candidate to do so.
Five years later, Flint is still dealing with the fallout of the water crisis after then Gov. Rick Snyder (R) decided to change the city's drinking water source to the Flint River to cut costs back in 2014. His decision resulted in nearly 100,000 people
being exposed to lead-tainted drinking water.
Within weeks, residents — primarily low-income people of color — complained about the water's smell and taste, claiming it was causing illnesses, rashes, and hair loss
among other ailments. Government officials dismissed those claims and insisted that the water was fine.
By 2016, the real impact of the issue became clearer, as the contaminated water from the river corroded many of the city's old lead pipes, poisoning residents. Critics argue that Flint residents were failed by local, state, and federal officials who delayed their response to the crisis.
Castro, a Democrat, visited the First Trinity Missionary Baptist Church in Flint, which has helped residents get access to safe drinking water since the beginning of the crisis. Actor and rapper Jaden Smith
has donated a mobile water filtration system to the church, with a promise that he recently fulfilled to donate another. Each system can filter 10 gallons of water in one minute.
Earlier in the day, he met with Flint Mayor Karen Weaver and Rep. Dan Kildee, both Democrats. Castro also held a town hall open to the public that afternoon.
On Monday, Castro released a formal lead elimination plan, making him the first White House hopeful to do so. While he's currently polling at less than 1%
, this move could pressure other candidates to focus on the crisis.
Castro's plan includes increased funding for lead poisoning prevention and lead remediation over 10 years, and the creation of a Presidential Taskforce on Lead in Communities
to help coordinate response efforts between federal and local agencies.
Julian Castro is set to take the stage June 26-27 in the first of six Democratic presidential debates
scheduled for this year. The event will be moderated by NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo
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