As U.S. Struggles Under Weight of Coronavirus, Families in Flint Mark 6 Years Living With Water Crisis Burden

Jacqueline McBride stands next to her daughter, Jassmine McBride.
Jacqueline McBride stands next to her daughter Jassmine McBride.

Jassmine McBride spent the last week of her life in a Michigan hospital with her mother by her side. The 30-year-old had gone into cardiac arrest a week earlier and doctors eventually told her mother, Jacqueline McBride, that Jassmine was brain dead. McBride made the decision to take her daughter off the ventilator, and Jassmine died on Feb 12, 2019.

“It was hard to sit there and see your child on that ventilator,” McBride told InsideEdition.com. “She was going through the process of dying, but I didn’t want to let her go.”

McBride said she called Jassmine’s family down to the hospital so they could say their last goodbyes before they took her off life support.

“Maybe five minutes later, she passed away,” McBride said.

McBride is still trying to cope with her daughter’s death. 

“I have my moments, but I am doing okay. She’s not in any pain. She doesn’t have to go to dialysis. She doesn’t worry about being poked on,” she said. "It was really sad. It was hard. She was my firstborn. She went through a lot, but she was strong. … a strong, young lady.”

Jassmine, who was from Flint, Michigan, was one of 90 people diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease, a severe form of pneumonia caused by bacteria found in water, after the 2014 outbreak of the disease in Flint.

Scientists believe the outbreak was caused by the city switching their water supply from Great Lakes Water Authority in Detroit to the Flint River for 18 months without properly treating it. Not only did lead from water lines begin to seep into the city’s water, but legionella bacteria in the water caused death and health problems for numerous people as well, according to an investigation by Frontline.

While the rest of the country focuses on coronavirus, the people of Flint are still contending with the after effects of the water crisis six years later, all while steeling themselves for what else might come.

"What happened in Flint was one of the worst, man made disasters of our time and we still don't know the damage but we know that lives, through no fault of their own, have been forever changed," Abby Ellis, who spearheaded the documentary "Flint's Deadly Water," told InsideEdition.com. "Due to the disease and health issues brought on by the water crisis in Flint, residents are now high risk for developing a severe case of coronavirus."

When Jassmine was first diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease, she spent three months in the hospital and after being released she had damaged lungs, kidneys, and a weakened heart, according to her mom.

"Jassmine was as normal as you could get,” McBride said of Jassmine before her diagnosis. “She danced. She had a job. She did a lot of things. Having Legionnaires’ changed a lot for her.”

After being hospitalized, Jassmine required regular dialysis treatment.

“She had to learn how to talk eat, sit in the car. She had to learn how to do a lot of things after all of that, and it really took a toll on her mental and physically,” McBride said.

In November 2019, her mom said she was hospitalized again and a lot of the issues she had in 2014 began to resurface.

State officials listed the official death toll in Michigan from the Legionnaires’ outbreak as 12 people, but a  two-year investigation by Frontline for the documentary “Flint’s Deadly Water” discovered at least 20 people who were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease during the outbreak that later died from causes linked to it.

Jassmine was one of them.

Dr. Marcus Zervos, an infectious disease specialist at Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital who had treated McBride told Frontline that although the disease wasn’t listed as Jassmine’s official cause of death, it was certainly a contributing factor.

“The immediate cause of death was cardiac arrest, but she suffered from complications of Legionnaires’ disease from 2014, which were kidney failure, heart failure, respiratory failure,” Zervos said in 2019. “She was the story of Flint.”

The documentary also found there were 70 more pneumonia deaths than usual in Genesee County during the water crisis in the city. Scientists told reporters with Frontline that it’s likely those deaths were undiagnosed Legionnaires’ disease.

Abby Ellis, writer, producer and director of “Flint’s Deadly Water,” said what happened to the residents in Flint is “devastating.”

“People died from bacterial pneumonia at an unusually high rate. Those who survived still suffer lifelong health complications as a result. And that's just bacteria,” Ellis told InsideEdition.com. “Why should anyone in Flint trust their health department or government again? For over a year they were told the water is safe to drink while officials in local and state government knew this wasn't the case, officials knew that the water was laced with deadly bacteria and lead.”

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found dangerous levels of lead in the water at residents' homes in the area in 2015. Exposure to lead can have serious affects, including affecting the heart, kidneys, and nerves. In children, lead exposure can slow development and lead to behavioral disorders, among other things. In January 2016, the state began a free bottled water program as part of the state’s $450 million state and federal aid package.

But in April 2018, Michigan state officials announced the state was ending the program as lead levels in the water had officially fallen below federal limits for two years.

At the time, Flint’s mayor wasn’t happy with the decision and said it shouldn’t have come until all of the “lead and galvanized pipes have been replaced” in the city. That still has not happened.

In a report published by VICE earlier this month, journalists Jordan Chariton and Jenn Dize alleged that after their 18-month investigation, they found that former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder knew about the Flint water crisis and attempted to cover it up.

Documents obtained by the news outlet show that Snyder had knowledge of the Legionella outbreak in Flint in October 2014, just six months after the city’s water was switched to the river. That’s 16 months earlier than Snyder initially said he found out in his testimony to Congress, according to Vice.

The report also alleges that Snyder and his administration were investigated by a team led by special prosecutor Todd Flood from 2016 to 2019, and it was determined that the administration had “committed conspiracies of ongoing crimes, like an organized crime unit.” The VICE report alleged that before a case came to fruition, "the state’s newly appointed attorney general, Dana Nessel, fired top prosecutors and investigators pursuing the case.”

InsideEdition.com’s attempts to obtain a comment from Synder were unsuccessful. Snyder hasn't been charged. 

In response to Inisde Edition's inquiry about VICE investigation, the attorney general's office said, "We do not have a comment to offer – especially since there were no charges filed against the former Governor by the former Office of Special Counsel for us to drop in the Flint Water Crisis investigation."

A joint statement issued last year by Nessel’s office, Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym L. Worthy said they have not stopped pursuing justice.

“As we approach six years since the water switch in Flint, we must remember the ongoing struggle of the people of Flint, and their resiliency in the face of a man-made disaster that will span generations. But they did not volunteer to serve as a cautionary tale of government gone wrong. This fate was imposed on them by a series of actions and inactions that created the historic injustice of the Flint Water Crisis,” the statement read.

"From the outset, our team committed to a complete investigation of the Flint Water Crisis, using all investigative means at our disposal. We committed to professional prosecution of anyone criminally responsible for this man-made crisis and the resulting death, injury and trauma experienced by the people of Flint. Despite the challenges posed to our state by the COVID-19 pandemic, the current state of emergency will not prevent us from pursuing justice,” it continued.

For people like McBride, she believes seeing justice served will bring a sense of piece, but will never replace her daughter.

“They didn’t care because if they cared they wouldn’t have made the switch in the first place and it wouldn’t have been kept a secret for so long,” McBride said. “They hid it. It’s just unfair. I just hope justice is served for the people who suffered, lost loved ones, and some who are still suffering.”

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