The Tesla CEO and futurist made the pledge in a Twitter exchange on 11 July.

By Daniel Herborn


Posted on July 12, 2018

The promise came about after Twitter user Baby D (@DylanSheaMusic) tweeted to Musk saying his friends doubted the Tesla and SpaceX CEO was capable of helping fix Flint’s dire water situation. Musk was having none of it.

“Please consider this a commitment that I will fund fixing the water in any house in Flint that has water contamination above FDA levels,” Musk tweeted in response.

“No kidding.”

In following tweets, Musk started to flesh out the details of this ambitious proposed intervention.

What is the background to the Flint, Michigan water crisis?

The city of Flint has been beset by problems with its water supply since 2014 when authorities switched the supply from Lake Huron and the Detroit River to Flint River, partly to save money. Lead from water pipes contaminated the new water supply, however, and more than 100,000 residents were impacted by the contamination. Lead consumption can lead to heart problems, impaired cognition and behavioural issues.

In January 2016, Barack Obama declared a federal state of emergency in the city and residents were advised to only drink bottled or filtered water for drinking, bathing and cooking. Tests showed the water quality had improved to acceptable levels by 2017 though authorities have continued to instruct residents to only use bottled or filtered water until all the lead pipes have been phased out. This project is not expected to be completed before 2020.

Flint had once been an economic powerhouse and the home to the country’s largest General Motors plant. But the plant downsized in the 1980s and the city’s fortunes declined. In 2011, the state government took over its ailing finances.

How does Musk plan to solve problems with Flint’s drinking water?

The lack of clean drinking water has been hugely contentious and high-profile, but now Elon Musk looms as the unlikely circuit-breaker.

In a later tweet, Musk suggested Flint residents could respond with ppm (parts per million) and pbm test results and he would organise someone to install a water filter where the results were below acceptable levels. He added that he was creating an email inbox (flint@x.com) for residents to contact him with their test results.

Elsewhere, Musk mused that he may set up a “barnstorming weekend” when workers would install filters en masse to homes without acceptably safe drinking water.

Musk said he was currently in China and would begin work on the project tomorrow.

Is the water in Flint still not safe to drink?

Later, Musk replied to CNET Senior Editor Sean Hollister, who said lead contamination levels in Flint were actually below the national average according to some reports. Officials insist the water is now safe but there is widespread dissatisfaction with these claims by Flint residents. In May 2018, fact-checking website Politifact adjudged the claim Flint water is still not safe to drink as “half true”.

“Most houses in Flint have safe water, but they’ve lost faith in govt test results,” Musk tweeted.

“Some houses are still outliers. Will organize a weekend in Flint to add filters to those houses with issues & hopefully fix perception of those that are actually good.”

Musk also tried to help with the Thai Cave rescue

Earlier this week, Musk attempted to assist rescue authorities at the Tham Luang caves by developing a “kid size” mini-submarine. He was widely ridiculed for his efforts and the vehicle he developed with SpaceX engineers was described as “not practical” by rescue chief Narongsak Osottanakorn.

Cave rescue expert Anmar Mirza told Slate Musk’s proposed solution, which he brainstormed with his 22 million Twitter followers, mischaracterised the main problems facing rescuers.

“With all due respect to Mr. Musk, I am not sure that he or his engineers have a real good handle on exactly what they’re dealing with in this particular situation,” he said.

In October 2017, Musk sent Tesla Powerwall battery packs to Puerto Rico after it was hit by Hurricane Maria.

Musk sceptics say he has a history of making grand promises and then not delivering on them, though this likely matter little to Flint residents if he is the one to finally end the city’s water crisis.