Miss America 2019 contestant Emily Sioma used her brief introduction during the pageant Sunday night to call the nation’s attention to the water crisis in Flint and her home state of Michigan.
“From the state with 84 percent of the United States’ fresh water but none for its residents to drink, I am Miss Michigan, Emily Sioma,” she said.
The words were brief, honest, and unspecific, yet they served as a scathing indictment to the public officials in her home state and their failed leadership that have contributed to “the Flint Water Crisis and the broader issues surrounding unsafe water in Michigan,” as the Detroit Free Press put it.
Lead started appearing in Flint’s water supply in 2014 after government officials switched the city’s water supply to the heavily polluted Flint River as a cost-cutting measure, neglecting to properly treat the infrastructure against the threat of lead leaching.
Fifteen officials are facing criminal charges for their alleged roles in the creating the Flint Water crisis.
Ms. Sioma didn’t win the title of Miss America – Nia Franklin, Miss New York, was crowned the winner – but national and international media cast the spotlight on Miss Michigan and her brief introduction.
Twitter was also ablaze with Ms. Sioma’s recognition of the Flint Water crisis, which, according to Inverse.com “exposed 98,000 people to dangerous levels of lead, disinfection byproducts, E. coli, and Legionella bacteria, causing long-term repercussions like infertility that are still being felt today.”
Emily Sioma, @MissAmericaMI wanted to make an impact. Regardless of whether you agree with what she said or not, she is shining light on a pressing issue that we have in our state that and that is STILL not solved.
THAT, is a Miss America.
— bk (@brooklynn_kayy) September 10, 2018
Ms. Sioma’s words were especially poignant as thousands of Detroit public school children returned to school with taps that have been shut off because water tests found dangerously high levels of lead in several water fountains and other water sources throughout the school district – Michigan’s largest.
With aging infrastructure throughout Flint, Detroit, and across so many other municipalities across the country, there’s no way of knowing just how many children in the U.S. are being permanently harmed by drinking water that falls below even third-world standards.
In addition to damaging the heart, kidneys, and nerves, lead consumption can cause impaired cognition; emotional, behavioral, and learning disorders; hearing problems; and delayed puberty in children.
According to CNN, the Miss America competition “underwent a series of changes in the last year intended to transform it from a beauty pageant to a platform for empowering young women. Notably, the swimsuit competition was dropped from the event.”