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Top 5 Heroes Of The Flint Water Crisis

by Leslie Gabriel January 28, 2016

As Margaret Mead said - "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." 

Much sooner than Flint's water emergency stood out as truly newsworthy, there were a lot of individuals creating an uproar about the spoiled water in this american city of almost 100,000 individuals. However the top 5 leaders of this H2O revolt have been a mother, a professor, a bureaucrat, a doctor and a reporter.

Hero # 1 - The Mother - LeeAnne Walters

Shortly after the switch of the Flint water supply from the Detroit system to the Flint River back in April 2014, residents of Flint began noticing a number of unexplained health effects in themselves and/or their family members, with 37 year old LeeAnne Walters, mother to four, being no exception.

By November, she was suspicious enough to begin using bottled water for drinking, cooking, and bathing of her two youngest children. Walters first attended a city counsel meeting in January of 2015 after receiving a notice from the city that high levels of trihalomethanes were present in the water and could pose a health risk to sick and elderly people (the letter also stated that the water was otherwise safe to drink). From that moment forward, her passion to uncover what was really going on with the Flint water crisis has helped rescue a whole city from the continued exposure to dangerously high levels of lead in their tap water. 

Walters urged officials to take action but quickly realized she would have to take matters into her own hands. She contacted the next "hero" in this crisis, Miguel Del Toral, who works for the EPA.

Hero #2 - The EPA Beaureacrat - Miguel Del Toral

Miguel Del Toral, who works for the EPA. Mr Del Toral took a personal interest in the Flint Water Crisis and the specific concerns of LeeAnne Walters.

After reviewing the details of the case, Toral made the following statement to the American Civil Liberties Union: "From a technical standpoint, there's just no justification for the way Flint is conducting its tests...Any credible scientist will tell you [the city's] method is not the way to catch worst-case conditions."

That leads us to our next hero, Marc Edwards, an expert in lead corrosion at Virginia Tech University.

Hero # 3 - The Professor - Marc Edwards 

Marc Edwardsan expert in lead corrosion at Virginia Tech Universitywas compelled LeeAnne Walter's story and began his own independent investigation of the Flint water crisis. The research team at Virginia Tech consists of undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, research scientists and principal investigators.

The research team had one focus, the health and welfare of the proud people of Flint, MI.

Edward's research team spent over $150,000 to find find that water from the Flint river was almost 20 times more corrosive then the earlier water supply. In addition the Virginia Tech team found that one in six Flint, MI households had elevated lead levels.

The ongoing media reports in the Flint Water Crisis drew the attention of our next hero Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatric residency director at Hurley Children’s Hospital in Flint, MI.

Hero # 4 - The Doctor - Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha

The doctor acknowledged the importance of her position to uncover more details of the Flint water crisis through her ability to conduct an evaluation of the blood lead levels of children in Flint before and after the switch to the Flint river with other children outside the Flint water system.

“We were hearing reports of lead in the water by the Virginia Tech group and when we, as pediatricians, hear about lead anywhere we need to act. We know lead. When we started to do our research, we weren’t seeing kids coming in with symptoms of lead poisoning because lead is largely asymptomatic, it has no symptoms. It’s known to be kind of a silent pediatric epidemic. But we routinely screened children for lead and what we were seeing when we looked back at our numbers was that the percentage of kids with elevated levels doubled in the whole city and in some neighborhoods it tripled. And so we held this press conference and you don’t release research at press conferences but we had an ethical, moral obligation to inform the community that the water has lead and it looks like it’s getting into the bodies of children.”

September 2015 was looking ominous for Flint city officials when the reports of both Edwards and Dr.  Mona Hanna-Attisha were made public, exposing incredibly high levels of lead in many Flint households and the doubling and even tripling of lead blood levels in Flint children since the start of the Flint water crisis. At this point, state officials still remained in public denial, but more heroes were on their way to help. 

With all the growing tide of evidence and still more denial from Michigan state officials - we meet the next hero of the Flint Water Crisis, Curt Guyette, an investigative reporter for the ACLU of Michigan.

Hero # 5 - The Reporter - Curt Guyette 

Guyette had been looking after the story of lead in Flint's water for quite a long time, even as authorities guaranteed residents and the media that everything was under control. Guyette has created a small documentary about worries with the water for the ACLU of Michigan, where he acts as an investigative reporter. That prompted a scoop—a leaked report from a US EPA official that clarified how Michigan's procedure for lead testing in Flint's water conveyed misleadingly low results.

When it all came down to it, Guyette's work helped to blow the roof off the Flint Water Crisis - but no matter how compelling the evidence, officials continued to stonewall, deny the truth and resisted action until there was enough public outcry for accountability in government.

Clearly, it has taken a team of fearless, dedicated people to expose the Flint Water Crisis and to prompt enough national attention to abate the situation. Sadly, the damage that has taken place in terms of human health won't be fully understood for decades to come. We can say that the heroic actions of these people from all walks of life will in some way help to prevent similar future tragedies.

Leslie Gabriel
Leslie Gabriel


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