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How GM Dodged Flint’s Caustic Water Crisis

Flint River Blues

John Gilbert Feb 3, 2016
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Davison, Michigan, is a township only 10 miles from the center of Flint, Michigan, and folks familiar with the water supply of Davison during the 1950s will remember the subject of stinky, brown, evil-tasting tap water is nothing new to the area. I know this firsthand because I spent more than a few summers growing up in Davison. That said, the official word back then stated it was minerals in Davison’s tap water that gave it that distinctive rotten egg smell, brown color, and awful flavor.

002 GM Dodges Flint Water Crisis River 2/6
004 GM Dodges Flint Water Crisis Bad Smell 3/6

In today’s news it’s the Flint, Michigan water crisis that’s attracting national attention with the caustic nature of the water supply sourced from the Flint River. As most Chevrolet enthusiasts into the history of Chevrolet will recollect, it was on the banks of the Flint River where GM’s Factory One started manufacturing Chevrolet cars in 1911. It was over 100 years later in 2014 when General Motors inspectors realized that switching to water sourced from the Flint River was causing corrosion on cast-iron engine blocks fresh from the foundry.

“The water was rusting the engine blocks,” said, Dan Reyes, president of UAW Local 599, that represents the plant’s nearly 900 workers. The extremely high levels of chloride in the water caused rust and corrosion when it came in contact with raw cast-iron.

003 GM Dodges Flint Water Crisis Davison 4/6

In December of 2014, General Motors stopped the supply of Flint River water, and turned to a fresh supply of water from Flint Township, a change made possible due to it bordering the township with infrastructure already in place. This option was not offered to other Flint businesses or city residents.

GM spokesman Tom Wickham recalled GM’s problem wasn’t the corroded lead pipes pouring chemicals into fresh water, but the chloride added to break down solids and contaminants. “The chloride caused visible damage on parts leaving the machining process,” said Wickham.

005 GM Dodges Flint Water Crisis Tap 5/6
005 Flint River GM Factory One Historical Dort Buggy Copy 6/6

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