In a moment of agreement at Thursday's Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both called for a more dramatic response to the Flint, Michigan water crisis, and called for federal intervention if the state is unable to remedy the situation.
Residents in the city of just over 100,000 people — most of whom are black and low-income — were subjected to massive lead contamination in the municipal water supply after the city stopped sourcing from Detroit and switched to the Flint River in April 2014.
"This is an emergency," Clinton said in response to a question regarding Flint from debate moderator Rachel Maddow. "Every day that goes by that these people – particularly children – that they are not tested [for poisoning] is a day lost in a child's life.
"I absolutely believe that what is being done is not sufficient," Clinton continued. "We need to be absolutely clear about everything that should be done from today to tomorrow, into the future to try to remedy the terrible burden that the people of Flint are barring."
She added, "If Michigan won't do it, there have to be ways that we can begin to move, and then make them pay for it, and hold them accountable."
Sanders said he entirely agreed with Clinton that the situation in Flint is dire and asked for the resignation of Gov. Rick Snyder to the sound of applause.
"The idea that there has not been a dramatic response is beyond comprehension," Sanders said. "And when you have one of the, I think, significant public health crises of recent years, of course the federal government comes in."
"One wonders, if this were a white suburban community what kind of response there would have been," Sanders added.
In the beginning of January President Obama declared a state of emergency in the city. Children have since tested positive for elevated levels of lead in their blood. In the past week Flint authorities testified before congress regarding their knowledge and reaction – and lack of reaction – to the water crisis.
In both their answers Sanders and Clinton emphasized the catastrophic effects that lead poisoning can have on the brains, bodies, and general development of children.
Ema O'Connor is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
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