As the water in Flint Michigan has slowly improved, a cottage industry providing samples of contaminated water has sprung up with the earlier dirtiest samples going to auction on eBay where bidding starts at $50 a liter. Most listings we saw online sold 12 to 16 ounce used water bottles refilled with the infamous orange Flint water. Prices ranged from $20 to $25 per bottle.
Flint's lead and rust contaminated water crisis was caused by an emergency manager appointed by the Governor. To save money the manager switched the city water source to the corrosive Flint River water which eventually started to leach lead out from the old pipes.
Smokie Davis, a mother of two school aged children who lives in Flint, tells how she accidentally started selling the contaminated water as a novelty.
"My husband is a teacher at University Of Michigan and a friend of his, a chemistry professor at UNM in Albuquerque, wanted to pay us to send them weekly samples for their own testing and teaching. After that, on a lark, I listed samples on Ebay and they immediately sold. I told my sister about it and pretty soon we had used up all of the empty water bottles we had selling on eBay, and our family was going through 200 bottles of water a week."
With the improving water situation in Flint, the market has already peaked for new samples. Smokie lamented the recent slump in prices to $15 dollars a liter now versus $50 dollars and more for old orange samples when the crisis was at it's peak.
"We think there may be a market for the newest samples for a few more weeks at the most."
Davis also told us how the high prices offered for the old orange samples had caused people to sell counterfeit Flint water.
"Of course," she said, " when anything becomes valuable there will be counterfeiters, but as soon as we saw suspect listings we joined with other legitimate Flint water re-sellers to have all testing and shipping done by either University Of Michigan or the lab MMTLMMJ. The collectors are naturally suspicious of any product that can be faked and we anticipated the need for testing and verification."
Some Flint residents took to selling samples of the old orange water as a side business and to recoup all of the extra money and time spent getting clean water just for basic decent human living.
One resident, who wished to remain anonymous, is storing 20,000 sixteen ounce bottles of orange Flint water.
"My wife told me I was crazy when I started refilling our used water bottles with the dirty water, I really didn't know myself what I was going to do with them. I thought I would send them to the Governor and maybe the state legislature as a protest. I never thought I could sell them and for $50 a liter, it's unbelievable."
The anonymous resident told us that he has stopped selling for now and is hoping the price will go up to $100 a liter or even higher. If current prices hold, he and his wife are already sitting on a million dollars worth of rusty orange water.