Thanksgiving in Flint: Turkey, Stuffing and Hundreds of Water Bottles

This family had to use 144 bottles of water to celebrate Thanksgiving.
November 28, 2016, 6:25pm
Image: Steven Depolo/Flickr

As Lulu Brezzell prepared a big Thanksgiving meal for her family, she thawed the turkey, chopped the potatoes and bought 144 bottles of water for the evening.

Brezzell, a resident of Flint, Michigan, and her family have been living without safe tap water since 2014, when a change in the city's water supply caused major lead contamination. The city switched to using Flint River water, but it didn't treat the water to make sure it didn't corrode the system's lead pipes, leaving thousands of residents exposed to the toxic metal.

Brezzell and her three children haven't been able to use their tap water for cooking or drinking since, and Thanksgiving was no exception. She had 10 relatives over for a traditional holiday dinner, so she used five cases of bottled water (144 bottles total) to thaw a 27-pound turkey, cook mashed potatoes, wash fruits and vegetables, make Kool-Aid and tea, and to wash dishes.

"This is life," she said, "and it's not getting better."

Brezzell family. Image: Courtesy of Lulu Brezzell

Brezzell said she heard from about 50 of her neighbors and friends around town, and most families used at least 100 bottles of water to safely cook on Thanksgiving. On a regular day, Brezzell and her children use bottled water for cooking, brushing their teeth and drinking.

The city's mayor declared a state of emergency in Flint last year after children's blood tested positive for high levels of lead, which can cause developmental issues. Flint residents have reportedly been hit with gastrointestinal illnesses shigellosis, a bacterial illness that spreads when people don't wash their hands, this year as more residents avoid using tap water, the New York Times reported.

Brezzell said she had a strong filter for their shower, but the filter was used up after four months.

So now they have to bathe with tap water, but they do so quickly or their skin starts burning. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention couldn't determine what was causing the rashes among Flint residents in a 2016 study, but it's a common problem.

"Whenever tap water touches my skin, it causes me to have rashes," Brezzell said. "It's frustrating, but at the same time, we have our health. It was still a good day."

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