The Flint River: A Toxic Thoroughfare


The Flint River: A Toxic Thoroughfare




Creative Commons Licence



Contributed date

February 20, 2020 - 8:45am

Critical Commentary

Looking across the Flint River at a storm water outflow connected to the Buick City site. Under a dusting of snow one can discern the containment booms that have been placed at the mouth of the outflow to capture surface-level contaminants. The river has a rich and complex history for the residents of Flint. Historically, industrial activity has clustered around it, from saw mills and carriage-making shops in the 19th century to the automobile factories that earned Flint the nickname the “Vehicle City.” The consequences for the health of the river have been severe. Legend tells of the river catching on fire, of large-scale fish die-offs. Residents recall stories of illegal dumping commanded of them by their managers at General Motors. Large amounts of contaminated sediment have had to be dredged up from certain sections of the river. Over the years, the brokenness of the river—once Flint’s lifeblood—became symbolic of the brokenness of the community. Despite all of this, water quality has improved substantially since the introduction of federal environmental protections in the 1970s. Current residents kayak and fish on the river; others picnic nearby on the restored river’s edge that runs through downtown. But the river’s reputation has largely remained poor, and the picture is not all rosy. In recent years, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has detected PFAS in the water here—a class of chemicals also found at the nearby Buick City site. The northernmost outflow connected to that site drains into the river upstream of where the city of Flint drew its drinking water from April 2014 to October 2015. For those who use the river as a source of sustenance and recreation there are concerns that chemicals from Buick City may be finding their way into peoples’ bodies through these other routes, too. 

Group Audience

  • - Private group -


Buick City Flint, MI
United States

Cite as

Ben Pauli, "The Flint River: A Toxic Thoroughfare", contributed by Ben Pauli, Center for Ethnography, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 29 February 2020, accessed 18 August 2022.