Obama responds to 'Little Miss Flint'

By Brady Dennis, Juliet Eilperin

The Flint Water Plant water tower. President Barack Obama next week will visit Flint, Michigan. Photo / AP
The Flint Water Plant water tower. President Barack Obama next week will visit Flint, Michigan. Photo / AP

US President Barack Obama, responding to the request of an 8-year-old girl from Flint, Michigan, will travel there in a week to talk to residents concerned about the high level of lead contamination in their water.

Mari Copeny, who acquired the nickname Little Miss Flint for her vocal activism on the issue of lead exposure, wrote to Obama last month when she was preparing to come to Washinton to watch Michigan Governor Rick Snyder testify before the House Oversight Committee on his state's handling of the issue.

Snyder, as well as the state's Department of Environmental Quality and the federal Environmental Protection Agency, have come under fire for not acting sooner to limit lead contamination coming from the city's aging pipe system.

"I know this is probably an odd request but I would love for a chance to meet you or your wife," Mari wrote. "My mom said chances are you will be too busy with more important things, but there is a lot of people coming on these buses and even just a meeting from you or your wife would really lift people's spirits."

Obama responded in a letter on Tuesday, which the White House posted today on the site Medium. He noted that she was "right that Presidents are often busy, but the truth is, in America, no title is more important than citizen."

"I want to make sure people like you and your family are receiving the help you need and deserve," the President wrote, adding he wanted her to be "the first to know" that he's coming to her city on May 5. "Like you, I'll use my voice to call for change and help lift up your community."

Copeny's mother, LuLu Brezzell, said her daughter was "a little overwhelmed" at the prospect of meeting the President, but "hasn't stopped smiling" since they received a call from the White House this week that he'd be coming.

"We've always taught her to stand up for what she believes in and to use her voice, " said Brezzell, who said she asked her daughter if she wanted to write to Obama while they were travelling to Washington last month to attend a hearing on Capitol Hill about the Flint water crisis.

I know this is probably an odd request but I would love for a chance to meet you or your wife
Mari Copeny

Flint's water contamination became a major issue in the presidential race around Michigan's primary, as Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders cited it as a sign of Republican politicians' indifference to those who are poor and African American, while Republicans said Obama Administration officials bore part of the blame for the problem. An ongoing state probe has faulted Michigan officials for making the key decisions that have exposed thousands of children in the community to dangerously high lead levels that can cause permanent neurological problems.

For decades, Flint had purchased its water from Detroit. It came from Lake Huron, with anti-corrosion chemicals added along the way. But as the once-thriving, now-struggling industrial city sought ways to trim its budget under the watch of an emergency manager appointed by the state, officials in 2014 switched the city's water source to the Flint River.

State officials, however, fatefully failed to ensure the addition of chemicals intended to control the corrosion of pipes and prevent lead and other contaminants from leaching into the water. Eventually, more than 95,000 residents in the troubled city - including about 9000 children under age 6 - were exposed to water tainted with lead and other potential contaminants.

- Washington Post

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