Nestlé — already notorious for shelling out just $524 annually to extract tens of millions of gallons of water for bottling from the San Bernardino National Forest, on a permit expired in 1988 — has managed to outdo itself in nefarious, ethically dark-gray business practices yet again, withdrawing millions of gallons of water each year from an aquifer in central Michigan, for a mere $200.
Rather, Nestlé actually pays nothing — that $200? An administrative fee.
Worse, the food and beverage behemoth continues this nearly-free extraction and bottling operation in Evart, less than two hours from the city of Flint — where residents still pay some of the steepest water prices in the nation — despite dangerous lead tainting making what comes from the tap unusable for any purpose.
Still. To this day.
“I don’t even water my plants with it,” Gina Luster, mother and Flint resident, told the Guardian.
Luster explained that, for her seven-year-old daughter, she’d had to make a game of unscrewing an endless procession of water bottles to make filling the bathtub and bathing something other than the odious task it had become, thanks to fecklessly thrifty city officials, who — pinching pennies — switched from the City of Detroit’s public supply to that of the corrosive Flint River, which led to extensive lead contamination of the potable water servicing the impoverished area.
It didn’t take long after the switch before the number of children in Flint with elevated lead levels doubled, residents complained of rashes and other symptoms, and — according to an unpublished study cited by the Guardian — fetal deaths rose by an astonishing 58 percent.
Yet, those who live there must shell out as much as $200 each month for water they cannot use — unconscionably, the same sum Nestlé sneezes out annually to pull water from the ground just miles from Flint to bottle for an obscene profit margin.
And, now, the corporation — tarnished in perpetuity for former chairman and CEO Peter Brabeck-Letmathe once intimating human beings have no inherent right to water — wants to increase its Michigan extraction operations by 60 percent, to 210 million gallons annually.
Of course, according to Nestlé’s application to the state, the pittance paid would not increase by a dime, should permission be granted.
It isn’t solely the juxtaposition of the company’s profiteering venture infuriating the people of Flint, but their forced dependence on bottled water — including that pulled from nearby — all due to governmental slights, misconduct, and callousness, and far beyond their control.
In other words, Flint residents have been made dependent upon a private corporation extracting water from Michigan for billions in profit, while the still-contaminated city’s supply flows from their taps for an ineluctably high price — when they can’t even use it for houseplants.
“Bottled water is ‘a necessity of life right now,’ said Chuck Wolverton, a Flint resident,” the Guardian continues. “He won’t touch his tap water. He drives 15 miles outside of town to his brother’s house to shower every night, where he often also washes his clothes. His water bill, he said, was around $180 per month. ‘I don’t even give it to my dogs.’
“In a state where officials denied Flint’s water was poisoned with lead; where Detroit residents choose between heat and water; where the water-borne, pneumonia-like legionnaire’s disease killed a dozen; and where gastrointestinal bugs spread among residents who lacked (or didn’t trust) water, Nestlé’s request [for increase in volume extracted] seemed like salt on a wound.”
Flint’s humanitarian debacle spawned widespread fears of lead tainting — and investigations and reports indicating those fears wholly justified. In December 2016, Reuters published an investigation identifying no less than 3,000 additional locales in the United States experiencing even worse lead contamination issues than embattled Flint. Not shockingly, Nestlé reaped the rewards of lead fear — raking in $7.4 billion in sales last year for its controversial bottled water, alone.
“With the money they make, they could come and fix Flint — and I mean the water plants and our pipes,” Luster added of the company. “Me and you wouldn’t even be having this conversation.”
As controversies go, continued coverage of the lead contamination disaster in Flint eventually circled to criticism of its residents on social media, with commenters suggesting they want water at no cost — and while that might indeed atone for the indefensible actions of corrupt and apathetic officials, residents insist they only want clean, drinkable water at a fair price.
“We’re not saying give everyone a new car, a new home,” Luster told the Guardian. “We’re just asking for our water treatment. That’s a no-brainer.”