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Archive for the ‘Lead’ Category

Poisoned Water

PBS Airdate: May 31, 2017

NARRATOR: In Flint, Michigan, officials try to save money by changing the city’s water source, but instead endanger public health.

GINA LUSTER (Flint Resident): We were so sick.

LEEANNE WALTERS (Flint Resident): We were experiencing hair loss. We realized it wasn’t just our home.

SIDDHARTHA ROY (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University): People are getting poisoned, because you’re not treating the water right.

NARRATOR: The pipes carrying the water are corroding, leaching lead into the system and putting thousands of children in danger.

DR. MONA HANNA-ATTISHA (Hurley Children’s Hospital): Once a child has lead in their blood, there is not much that you can do about it.

MARC EDWARDS (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University): Even one swallow of that water would cause lead poisoning of a child, one swallow.

NARRATOR: How did this happen?

MARC EDWARDS: We were fighting the very agencies who were supposed to enforce the law.

NARRATOR: Can the people of Flint use science to fight back?

PROTESTOR: What do we want? Clean Water!

NARRATOR: Now, it’s a massive job to make Flint safe,…

GENERAL MICHAEL MCDANIEL (Flint FAST Start Program): There’s probably over 20,000 lead service lines in the city.

NARRATOR: …in Flint and around the country.

MARC EDWARDS: We’ve got millions of those lead pipes out there, might be in front of your house.

NARRATOR: Poisoned Water, right now, on NOVA.

FLINT GOVERNMENT OFFICALS: We need a countdown. Three, two, one, here’s to Flint!

NARRATOR: With the push of a button, the City of Flint, Michigan switches to a new source for its drinking water, the Flint River. That switch would soon become a disastrous combination of poisoned water and misuse of science.

GINA LUSTER: I remember the switch, because it was my daughter’s birthday. It was April 25th.

City and elected officials, a lot of them were saying, you know, “This is going to save us so much money,” and, “This is a good thing.” And we’re like, “Oh boy,” you know, holding our breath.

NARRATOR: There was nothing wrong with the city’s old water source, Lake Huron, so why make the switch at all? Mainly to save money.

CLAIRE MCCLINTON (Flint Resident): Flint is a blue collar, industrial city. We are the home of General Motors. We have experienced, like other cities and areas in the Rust Belt, a tremendous decline in jobs.

NARRATOR: Since the late 1950s, G.M. closed seven major facilities in the region. Tens of thousands of jobs were lost. In 2011, with the city close to bankruptcy, Governor Rick Snyder stripped power from city officials and assigned a series of emergency managers to fix Flint’s financial crisis.

DAYNE WALLING (Mayor of Flint, Michigan, 2009–2015): An emergency manager can come into a community, take the powers of a mayor and the city council and make decisions.

DARNELL EARLEY (Flint Emergency Manager, 2013–2015, film clip): We want to maintain access to a clean, sustainable water source.

NARRATOR: For decades, Flint purchased treated water, at a premium price, from Detroit. Now, the emergency manager and city officials pursue a plan to save millions by building a pipeline to Lake Huron. It would take years to finish.

Until then, the city would draw water from the Flint River and treat it at the old Flint Water Plant. There were problems from the very start.

FELIPE GATICA (Flint Resident): Rusty water came out, as soon as we turned it on. So, right then and there, you know, my wife being pregnant, she was like, “We’re not gonna use the water.”

CLAIRE MCCLINTON: My clothes in the washing machine are smelling like bleach, smelling like rotten eggs.

LISA GOULD-MALISZEWSKI (Flint Resident): We started to get rashes, listlessness, muscle aches and pains.

LEEANNE WALTERS: Where’s the other piggy at?

NARRATOR: LeeAnne Walters was a stay-at-home mom with 3-year-old twin boys and a teen-aged daughter.

LEEANNE WALTERS: My hairdresser was very concerned, because my hair was thinning out, pretty badly. And then we started noticing it in my daughter and in other…you know, my sons and my husband.

When we had our first bout of brown water, we didn’t understand what was happening. We were told by the city that they were winterizing the system, but we had lived here for years, at that point. We had never experienced anything like that.

GAVIN WALTERS (LeeAnne Walters’ Son): Am I hot?

LEEANNE WALTERS: You are hot.

NARRATOR: These problems led Walters to ask detailed questions about how the water was being treated.

LEEANNE WALTERS: I started requesting documents from the city. I wanted to know about the water treatment plant and how they were treating the water, what chemicals they were using, what their raw water data was before they treated the water.

NARRATOR: With no training in civil engineering, this was her own independent investigation. Her first question: how does water get treated?

As LeeAnne Walters discovers, at the time of the switch, local authorities set out to treat water from the Flint River much the way any other city would.

Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in Cincinnati, which has been treating river water for 200 years. In both Flint and Cincinnati, the water starts out essentially the same, straight from the river: brown and cloudy with particles.

JEFF SWERTFEGER (Greater Cincinnati Water Works): Now, you see the water is very cloudy and has all these particulates, things like clay, pieces of leaves, decaying sticks and things like that. But the particles are also things like bacteria. So, we want to make sure that we removes these particles in treatment.

NARRATOR: To remove the particles, both treatment plants use a coagulant that helps particles stick together. These bigger and heavier globs eventually sink to the bottom.

JEFF SWERTFEGER: We end up with a water that’s about like this. So, we actually remove about 90 to 95 percent of the solids in the water, just through that process.

NARRATOR: To remove additional solids and bacteria, the water moves through filtration beds, containing materials like sand. Flint’s beds are smaller than Cincinnati’s, but function much the same way.

JEFF SWERTFEGER: As the water trickles through the sand, then the sand will remove the rest of the particulates, the rest of the pathogens that could be left in the water. So then, when we, when we come out of the sand filters, that water looks very clear, very clean.

NARRATOR: The water might look clean, but coming from an industrialized river, it may still carry invisible toxins.

JEFF SWERTFEGER: There are chemical manufacturers all up and down the river, and some of that material can get into the water.

NARRATOR: To remove these, many cities use carbon filtration, similar to the charcoal in an aquarium or in a home water filter. At the end, finishing chemicals, like fluoride and chlorine, are added. As a rule, river water is more difficult to treat than lake water.

MICHAEL R. SCHOCK (Environmental Protection Agency Office of Research and Development): River waters are just a big engineering challenge relative to a lake water source. Rainwater, snowmelt, run-off that goes into the river from agricultural sources…you can get road salts. River waters change very rapidly, and so, the entire treatment plant has to be geared to respond, within literally minutes, to hours of big changes in chemistry.

NARRATOR: Complex chemistry and a plant that hadn’t been fully operational in 50 years? Was Flint in over its head from the start?

Within a few months of the switch, not only are residents complaining of rashes and bad smells,…

NEWS AUDIO #1: Now, back in Flint, some folks are dealing with a new problem.

NARRATOR: …but the city is issuing public health warnings.

NEWS AUDIO #2: …bacteria that prompted a boil water advisory.

NEWS AUDIO #3: … needs to be boiled to kill of any bacteria.

NARRATOR: E. coli bacteria, a potentially dangerous pathogen that originates in fecal matter, is found in Flint’s water. To kill E. coli, Flint adds more and more chlorine. We use it for household cleaning and swimming pools, but over-chlorinated water can react with organic matter and create toxic byproducts. This starts to happen in Flint.

In October, another red flag.

NEWS AUDIO #4: Concerns over water quality in Flint are leading Genesee County’s biggest employer to shut off their taps.

NARRATOR: General Motors reports that Flint River water is corroding its engine parts.

WALTER SMITH-RANDOLPH (NBC Reporter, film clip): The issue here is the levels of chlorine in the water. It creates some sort of corrosion.

NARRATOR: G.M. switches back to Detroit water on its own. Meanwhile, city officials continue to insist the water is safe.

Ten months after the switch, the Walters family is facing worsening health problems.

LEEANNE WALTERS: We had taken the boys in for one of their check-ups. And for being almost four years old, they seemed abnormally small to me, for their age. And I was told, “Oh, this is normal. Twins are generally smaller.” My twins weren’t smaller. My twins were seven pounds, three weeks early, so to say that this was a normal twin thing didn’t sit right with me.

And the fact that every time Gavin would come in contact with the water, what it would do to his skin, and how badly he would break out…

The final straw was when they told us we had to start giving him Benadryl to take a bath. And then his skin would be so raw, and he’d be so broken out, and he would scream and cry so ungodly. We could not keep putting this child through what he was going through just to take a bath.

NARRATOR: LeeAnne isn’t the only one investigating Flint’s water. The city falls under the jurisdiction of the Environmental Protection Agency Region 5. The E.P.A. makes regulations to protect the environment, including the water supply.

Miguel Del Toral, a water regulation expert for E.P.A., has been following the events in Flint.

MIGUEL DEL TORAL (Environmental Protection Agency Region 5): I first started to get concerned when we just had a series of events that happened one after another. Beginning with the E. coli being found in the water, followed by high disinfection byproducts, and coupled with the severely discolored water, it was obvious to me that something was really wrong there.

NARRATOR: A key component of federal water regulation is the E.P.A.’s Lead and Copper Rule, which limits the amount of lead and copper allowed in drinking water before utilities must take action.

LEEANNE WALTERS: After, the city came in and started testing at my home and realized that I wasn’t a liar and that I wasn’t stupid and that the discolored water was happening almost on a daily basis in my home. And my first test came back at 104 parts per billion.

NARRATOR: One hundred and four parts per billion of lead.

LEEANNE WALTERS: The maximal allowed by E.P.A. is 15 parts per billion.

NARRATOR: Later, Leanne’s home will be called “ground zero,” known as the first critical case of dangerous lead levels in drinking water after the switch.

Walters contacts authorities in E.P.A. Region 5, who put her in touch with Del Toral.

MIGUEL DEL TORAL: I looked at the results from the Walters’ home. First result was 104 parts per billion, the second was 397 parts per billion, but it was looked at as an isolated problem.

NARRATOR: Del Toral and Walters are right to be concerned. Even the ancient Romans, who used lead for plumbing, knew it was toxic, though they didn’t understand why. Today, we do.

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and the University of Cincinnati have been following children exposed to lead into adulthood. It’s the longest running study of its kind in the world.

DR. KIM CECIL (Cincinnati Lead Study): You nervous? A little bit?

NARRATOR: Dr. Kim Cecil is an investigator for the Cincinnati Lead Study.

DR. KIM CECIL: So, lead tricks the body into thinking it’s calcium. Whenever lead has got into your body, primarily through ingestion, it goes and hides where calcium should be, in the bones and in the cells of the brain.

Visualize a neuron. There’s the neuron that’s sending the signal and then another that’s receiving the signal, and, typically, calcium is in that gap.

NARRATOR: Calcium is essential for neurons to communicate, but when a child is exposed to lead, lead gets in that gap and blocks the flow of calcium. Without calcium, synapses get weaker and brain function suffers.

KIM CECIL: The average I.Q. of the Cincinnati lead study is 86. It should be 100 in a typically developing population.

NARRATOR: Lead can disrupt brain growth and even lead to shrinkage or volume loss in brain tissue.

KIM CECIL: I can give you, kind of, a hint of volume loss. You can see these ventricles look plump, because there’s less brain. From this analysis, I can tell you that most of that volume loss is in the frontal lobe. And that region of the brain is responsible for what makes us the most human. It controls our decision-making, our ability to pay attention, our ability to plan, to make judgment, to evaluate rewards, all the things that we need in life to be successful.

NARRATOR: Lead can cause harm wherever it ends up in the body, and lead poisoning can even be passed to the next generation.

KIM CECIL: If you’re a pregnant woman, exposed to lead when you were a child, that lead is stored in your bones. And when your body needs calcium for the developing fetus, it’s pulling lead out of the bone instead of calcium, in many cases.

NARRATOR: LeeAnne Walters’ drinking water has extremely high levels of lead, but where is it coming from?

Marc Edwards, a professor of environmental engineering at Virginia Tech, would play an important role in the story of Flint’s water.

MARC EDWARDS: Lead gets into drinking water almost exclusively from pipes. There are very few cases where there’s lead in water leaving the treatment plant.

NARRATOR: Edwards knows a lot can happen after the water leaves the treatment plant. In American cities, water flows through networks of underground pipes: first, through city water mains, up to 10 feet in diameter, typically made of iron. From the mains, smaller service lines carry water to individual homes and businesses. And, in Flint, a lot of those service lines are made of lead.

MARC EDWARDS: It used to be the law in some cities that that pipe had to be made of 100 percent pure lead. And so we’ve got millions of those lead pipes out there around the country, might be in front of your house.

NARRATOR: And it’s not just the service lines that can bring lead into your home.

MARC EDWARDS: After it goes into the house, oftentimes, in the basement, there’s three additional sources of lead in plumbing. One is lead in brass, which is the faucets and brass valves; galvanized iron had lead in it; and then you also had lead solder, which is a glue that’s used to connect metal pipes together. So, that’s how the water picks up lead, right before it comes out into your glass.

NARRATOR: If there is so much lead in our plumbing, why aren’t we all lead-poisoned? The answer lies in the complex chemical reactions that go on between the pipe itself and the water flowing through it.

MIKE SCHOCK: Inside the pipe, as the water goes through, it reacts. Chemical reactions take place with the plumbing material, and this begins to build up kind of a protective coating, what we call a “scale.”

NARRATOR: This protective scale is crucial. It becomes a barrier that prevents lead from leaching into the water.

As scientists at the E.P.A.’s office of research and development reveal, this protective scale can be made of up to 90 percent lead.

MIKE SCHOCK: Most people don’t expect that there’s actually a lot of lead in the scale. It’s not a very good joke, but we often say that you are drinking water through lead painted straws, because these are the minerals that were in lead paint, and yet they’re lining your drinking water pipe.

You’re using lead to protect yourself from lead.

NARRATOR: To control pipe corrosion, water utilities often add a chemical that helps build up the scale and protect the water. This is so critical, that E.P.A.’s Lead and Copper Rule requires cities with over 50,000 people to have what’s called “corrosion control treatment” in place.

The question is has the City of Flint been using corrosion control?

LEEANNE WALTERS: I had requested, from the City of Flint, one of their monthly operational reports. And I was going through that, and I was looking at what chemicals they were using in our water. And I wasn’t seeing anything they were using for an anti-corrosion.

NARRATOR: An anxious Walters reaches out to Miguel Del Toral.

LEEANNE WALTERS: And so I had called Miguel, and I told him I wasn’t seeing orthophosphates, anything that should say, “Hey, there’s a corrosion control in here.” And so he asked me to read him the document, and I did. He asked me to read it to him again. We went through this three or four times.

And so he’s like, “Nope, that doesn’t sound right. You need to, can you please send that to me?” And so I emailed it to him. And then he called me back, and then he said, “Oh, my god, they’re breaking a federal law. They’re not using any corrosion controls.”

NARRATOR: On his own, Del Toral had already contacted M.D.E.Q., the Michigan environmental agency, to see if Flint had implemented corrosion control.

MIGUEL DEL TORAL: Early on, we received an email from the D.E.Q. that, basically, indicated that the system had corrosion control in place.

NARRATOR: After Walter’s discovery, Del Toral emailed M.D.E.Q. to ask again about corrosion control.

MIGUEL DEL TORAL: The city, at that point, told us that the system did not have corrosion control in place.

I thought that was pretty incredible, that they would not. The public health implications of not having corrosion control and having lead lines in the system, was, was really weighing on me, at that point.

MIKE SCHOCK: If you don’t add the corrosion inhibitor when you should have it, the result’s going to be, you’ll have much higher lead levels or copper levels or what your other metals are in that distribution system.

NARRATOR: The power of corrosion control can be seen with the naked eye. At Virginia Tech, Amy Pruden compares Flint’s water to water from the Detroit system. She places a small iron coil, to represent the iron water mains, into each sample.

AMY PRUDEN (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University): In this case, we’re going to go ahead and let this water react overnight. And what we’ll see is that, with time, the more corrosive Flint water will react with the iron.

NARRATOR: With no corrosion control in place, the Flint water corrodes and rusts the iron much faster.

AMY PRUDEN: And we’ll also see the water begin to become orange and cloudy, because of the rust.

NARRATOR: The corrosive water not only rusted Flint’s iron water mains, but it also attacked the scale on the lead lines servicing individual homes.

MIKE SCHOCK: So now, because this water was much more corrosive, the scale changed, it saw a different chemical environment, and the scale began to flake off and deteriorate from all types of plumbing, including the lead. And then the lead on that surface of the pipe dissolved rapidly into the water.

NARRATOR: Over several months, protests had been building.

LEEANNE WALTERS: We were watching people hold up bags of hair, and we were experiencing hair loss; people showing off their rashes, we had rashes. They were holding up jugs of water that looked, not as bad as this one, but discolored.

So, at that point, we realized it wasn’t just our home. It wasn’t specific to us. And knowing that there’s something happening to my children, and that my children were being harmed…you can mess with me all you want, but don’t mess with my kids.

It wasn’t just about my kids, though, it was everybody’s kids. You’re hurting all the kids in my neighborhood that I love. All the kids that live in the City of Flint. And so, that wasn’t okay with me.

NARRATOR: Fourteen months after the switch, Miguel Del Toral’s emails reveal frustration at what he sees as his own agency’s unwillingness to take charge of the growing crisis. He does something that catches E.P.A. Region 5 leadership by surprise: he writes a preliminary report on the situation in Flint, sharing it with LeeAnne Walters, who gives it to the press.

MARC EDWARDS: The memo laid out the danger to Flint’s residents and children, that they were not being protected by Federal Corrosion Control laws. There was one child who’d been lead poisoned, and in all likelihood, there were many others.

NARRATOR: But the memo fails to inspire the kind of action Flint residents are looking for.

BRAD WURFEL (Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Spokesperson, audio clip): Anyone who’s concerned about lead in the drinking water in Flint can relax.

NARRATOR: E.P.A. Region 5 director Susan Hedman apologizes to Flint’s mayor for its release.

MARC EDWARDS: Then the mayor of Flint went on T.V., drinking the water, telling everyone in Flint the water was safe to drink.

NARRATOR: Later, according to N.P.R., a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, M.D.E.Q., will describe Del Toral as a “rogue employee,” and, according to LeeAnne Walters, another M.D.E.Q. official discredits his report.

LEEANNE WALTERS: Liane Shekter-Smith, head of drinking water for M.D.E.Q., told me that Miguel had been handled, that his report was flawed, and there would be no final report.

NARRATOR: By now, Walters’ son Gavin has been diagnosed with lead poisoning.

LEEANNE WALTERS: Well, I had called Marc in tears. I was just bawling my eyes out, and I’m like, “What do we do? How do we stop this? We just can’t sit by and let all these kids be poisoned. It’s too late for my family. What about everybody else’s kids?

NARRATOR: Edwards was already working with Walters to measure the level of lead in her water.

MARC EDWARDS: I’ll never forget calling her on the phone and telling her how to fill up 30 bottles. And so, she was at this sink here, filling up the bottles, and she Federal Expressed the samples back to us. And it took us a few days to analyze them, and when I got those results, it was about midnight. I was in my easy chair, and I almost, I almost fell out of it, and my heart skipped a couple of beats, because it, it was the worst lead and water contamination I’d seen in 25 years.

NARRATOR: Virginia Tech researcher Jeffrey Parks evaluates the water samples from the Walters’ home.

JEFFREY PARKS (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University): What we found was that there was a lot of lead everywhere, for the most part. The first sample was over 2,000. And as we flip to sample 20, which is 20 liters of water being flushed through her kitchen sink, that sample read 13,200 parts per billion of lead.

Five thousand is considered hazardous waste, so we’re almost three times the level of hazardous waste in that one sample.

NARRATOR: Poisoned water, poisoned science, government inaction, lives of children and families under threat, to Marc Edwards, the story unfolding in Flint is all too familiar.

MARC EDWARDS: I knew something like Flint was inevitable, based on 10 years’ prior experience in Washington D.C.

NEWS AUDIO #5: For the residents of the Nation’s Capital tonight, there is a concern over a potential danger at home.

MARC EDWARDS: From 2001 to 2010, they suffered the worst lead contamination event in modern U.S. history.

NARRATOR: The water crisis in the Nation’s Capital started in the early 2000s, when the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority, WASA, and the Army Corps of Engineers made a water treatment switch. And, like Flint, they failed to add corrosion control chemicals to the water.

CAROL SCHWARTZ (D.C. City Councilor, audio file): WASA apparently has uncovered…elevated levels of lead in D.C. tap water and apparently has been aware, for some time, that the problem could be widespread.

ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (United States House of Representatives, film clip): We want to know what actually happened.

MARC EDWARDS: Congress was mad because lead was high. People were marching in the streets. They were out of their mind with anger.

NARRATOR: D.C. residents had been drinking lead-contaminated water for almost three years before the public was notified.

Elin Betanzo was a water engineer at the E.P.A.

ELIN BETANZO (Northeast-Midwest Institute): Even though we have a drinking water regulation that directly addresses lead in drinking water, the Lead and Copper Rule, my boss asked me, “Do you think people were actually hurt here? We need to find out if children get poisoned by lead through drinking water.”

NARRATOR: Betanzo began her research but never completed it.

ELIN BETANZO: I was given a leadership role on a different project, but sometimes, when I look back on it, I wonder if I was moved because I was asking too many questions about what was happening in Washington, D.C.

NARRATOR: Then, in 2004, the Centers for Disease Control reported that children in D.C. who had been drinking the contaminated water did not have high enough levels of lead in their blood to cause concern.

MARC EDWARDS: The claim was that kids could drink any amount a lead in water and it wouldn’t hurt them. And that story spread nationally, internationally, did all kinds of harm to kids. That’s the danger of bad science.

NARRATOR: Edwards challenged the C.D.C.’s findings, and over the next six years, spent thousands of dollars of his own funds and demanded scores of documents under the Freedom of Information Act.

MARC EDWARDS: It’s not so much the initial crime, it’s when people read these papers and believe it, act on it. And then you had cheating all around the country, because it didn’t matter how much lead in water your kid drank.

NARRATOR: Edwards discovered that thousands of blood test results had been lost. And many of the individuals tested were already drinking filtered or bottled water. A congressional investigation agreed: there were grave problems with the scientific integrity of the study.

ELIN BETANZO: I was just horrified that, you know, finally, there is confirmation that everything that had been shared between 2004 and 2010 was wrong. And part of me felt like I should’ve been able to see that and intervene.

NARRATOR: Marc Edwards estimated that more than 40,000 children under the age of two or in the womb were potentially exposed to high levels of lead in the water. Many could be left with lifelong problems.

The experience had a huge impact on him.

MARC EDWARDS: You’re questioning these agencies. And to see them attack you, and to see your friends leave you and your career destroyed, but the public welfare depends on you getting the truth out.

NARRATOR: Over a decade after the D.C. crisis, Siddartha Roy, a Ph.D. student of Edwards’, knows how affected he was by the ordeal.

SID ROY: It radicalized him. So, that, kind of, gave him a playbook, a set of tools that we were ready to deploy in case another D.C. happened.

NARRATOR: To Edwards, Flint is the next D.C.

MARC EDWARDS: All the science was done, essentially, before I got involved.

LeeAnne was the one who figured out that her children had been poisoned by the water. LeeAnne figured out, on her own, that the state actually had said that corrosion control was in place when it wasn’t there. And Miguel had checked into it and found out it was all true.

MARC EDWARDS: We were mainly involved in figuring out just how bad the problem was getting.

NARRATOR: Edwards hopes a citywide investigation of Flint’s water will force government agencies to finally take action. And for that, his playbook calls for willing bodies.

MARC EDWARDS: We needed a team of students to immediately go to Flint and start sampling the water.

SID ROY: So, the key to getting students to do their job is to feed them free pizza.

MARC EDWARDS: I sent out an email, requesting volunteers, and I used the bribe of free pizza. And I explained the situation: that I felt this entire city’s future was in danger.

SID ROY: He was going to launch a volunteer effort, and he asked if people were willing to volunteer, so we said yes.

MARC EDWARDS: It was us or nobody. This was a war.

NARRATOR: Marc and his students drive 550 miles from Blacksburg, Virginia, to Flint, to test the water and distribute sampling kits. Flint residents will have to follow a rigorous scientific protocol for the results to be valid.

MARC EDWARDS: What are you up to, 80? Okay, well only 200 more to go.

SID ROY: We wanted to make sure every resident gets how to actually sample their homes.

LEEANNE WALTERS: I made sure that there were 45 participants in each zip code, so we made this a statistical test, so we could prove that this was a citywide problem, not specific to one home or one zip code. We were given 300 kits.

I’m here for your water kit.

And within those 300 kits, we returned 277 kits in three weeks.

You have a great day.

Citizens testing their own water to prove that there’s a problem…no one’s ever done anything like that before.

SID ROY: The people of Flint really were desperate for answers.

GINA LUSTER: We were so sick. I mean, like, missing numerous days of work and school. And we did not know what the heck was wrong with us. I mean, just, severe fatigue and diarrhea and rashes and losing teeth and hair. And we were going to doctors and no one had an answer.

PROTESTER: I had to go in and pay a $512 water bill, for water that is making my family sick!

SID ROY: They had been protesting this water quality, and they were not getting anywhere. The city insisted everything was fine.

NARRATOR: By early September 2015, 17 months after the switch, this experiment in citizen science is yielding results. Hundreds of samples are collected by residents.

When analyzed by Virginia Tech, many show high lead levels, some six times higher than the Lead and Copper Rule allows.

Students begin calling homes with the highest lead levels, to warn residents not to use tap water without a filter.

An effective filter can remove up to 99 percent of lead and other metals.

SID ROY: I called up this woman who had very high lead and she asks us, “So how much does a filter cost?” And we’re like, “It’s $25.” And she goes, “Well, I’m on social welfare. There’s no way I can afford $25 in the next two months.” I’ve never felt so helpless in my life.

MICHAEL MOORE (filmmaker protesting, film clip): Let’s call this what it is. It’s not just a water crisis, it’s a racial crisis, it’s a poverty crisis.

PROTESTORS: Water is a human right. Fight, fight, fight!

MARC EDWARDS: We realized early on that we had to be investigative scientists.

NARRATOR: Edwards has another rule in his playbook: get hold of internal government documents to see what’s happening behind the scenes.

MARC EDWARDS: We knew what documents to ask for. We and we alone knew where the bodies were going to be buried.

SID ROY: Unknown to all of us, Marc was filing Freedom of Information Act requests left and right.

NARRATOR: On September 15, 2015, Virginia Tech researchers publically present their findings: Flint’s water has dangerously high levels of lead.

MARC EDWARDS (film clip): We estimate that the water in about 5,000 Flint homes is over standards set by the World Health Organization for lead in water.

LEEANNE WALTERS (film clip): This evidence shows that Flint is not monitoring according to the Lead and Copper Rules given by the E.P.A. Basically, the bottom line is stop trying to come up with ways to hide the lead. You should be looking for the high lead; that is your job as the D.E.Q.

SID ROY: We left a very clear message that no matter what the state says, no matter what the city says, the science is clear on this, and no one should be drinking that water.

NARRATOR: But Michigan authorities, at M.D.E.Q., dispute Virginia Tech’s findings.

SID ROY: M.D.E.Q., says that the V.T research group led by Marc Edwards, they essentially can go to any city and they’ll find lead. Essentially, they pull the lead rabbit out of the hat.

MARC EDWARDS: Why is it that normal people sampling their water are finding all this lead, when the city and state, who are being paid to do this and determine if the water is safe, can’t seem to find any lead?

NARRATOR: The answer would be found in the emails and documents streaming in from Freedom of Information Act requests.

When the Virginia Tech team and other investigators scour the documents, they uncover disturbing problems with the state’s testing protocols.

MARC EDWARDS: And so, when it came to Flint, they used every trick in the book. They used pre-cleaning of pipes the night before sampling. They told consumers to clean out their lines for five minutes.

MIGUEL DEL TORAL: By including an instruction for residents to pre-flush the tap before they collect compliance samples, what that, in effect, does is results in less lead being captured than is actually there. And so it makes the public water system look like they have low lead levels, when in fact they may not.

MARC EDWARDS: On top of that, incredibly, they had samples from LeeAnne Walter’s house. All those samples were thrown into the garbage. They said that LeeAnne’s house was not an approved sampling site, and, therefore, they weren’t going to count any of those samples.

SID ROY: And I’m in shock again. I’m witnessing engineers trying to artificially reduce the actual numbers by manipulating where you sample.

NARRATOR: But a week later, new evidence emerges that authorities cannot ignore. It begins with water engineer Elin Betanzo, who’d been at the E.P.A. during the D.C. crisis. By coincidence, she is now working in southeast Michigan and reading about the crisis in Flint.

ELIN BETANZO: I had seen a news report where there is a memo written by Miguel Del Toral from the E.P.A. Region 5 office, and I used to work with Miguel. I have so much respect for Miguel. And so, when I saw his name on this memo, and I read it and I understood it, I was scared. I was scared for the people of Flint.

So, I thought back to Washington, D.C., and I thought about what happened there and I was thinking, “I know what’s happening here. What can I do?”

NARRATOR: A few weeks later, Betanzo is at dinner with her friend Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician with access to crucial blood data at Flint’s Hurley Children’s Hospital.

ELIN BETANZO: So then, like, my brain is spinning, and I said “Do you have access to all the medical records at your hospital? You’ve got to do a study. You’ve got to look to see if lead levels in children’s blood has increased, from before they switched the water.”

She got started on her study the next day.

MONA HANNA-ATTISHA: That night was the first night that I stopped sleeping, because anybody who knows anything about lead stops sleeping. And that really, kind of, started my, almost, crusade to find out if that lead in the water was getting into the bodies of our children.

This is not something you mess around with. We are never ever, ever supposed to expose a child to lead, because once a child has it in their blood, there is not much that you can do about it.

NARRATOR: Dr. Hanna-Attisha begins a systematic study of the amounts of lead in children’s blood.

PHLEBOTOMIST (Hurley Children’s Hospital): How old are you? You are doing real good.

MONA HANNA-ATTISHA: What we did is we compared lead levels before the water switch in 2013, and we compared them to lead levels after the water switch in 2015. We were really only looking at one thing: was the percentage of children with lead levels at or above five micrograms per deciliter.

When we saw the results we weren’t surprised, but we were heartbroken. How could this have happened?

We saw that the percentage of children with elevated lead levels—this, this five or greater—had doubled after the water switch. And in some neighborhoods, where, where the water lead levels done by Marc Edwards were the highest, were the same neighborhoods that the children’s blood lead levels had increased the most.

But right away, the, the state’s machinery began to dismiss me. They began to dismiss the research, and that the state’s number didn’t add up to my numbers. They said that I was causing near-hysteria.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, because for 18 months, the people of Flint were dismissed. And the moms were dismissed, and the activists were dismissed, and the pastors, and the journalists and the E.P.A. scientists were dismissed.

NARRATOR: But a week later, Dr. Eden Wells, Chief Medical Executive at Michigan’s Department of Health, concludes the research is sound. She is pivotal in convincing other agencies of the importance of this study.

DR. EDEN WELLS (Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, film clip): Do we know how many children will actually have a long-term effect from this exposure? We do not.

PROTESTERS: What do we want? Clean water! When do we want it ? Now!

PROTESTER: There are babies that are sick that will have to deal with illnesses for the rest of their life. You have people that are in hospitals for multiple months, while our politicians are sitting back playing politics.

NARRATOR: And lead is not the only danger in Flint’s waters.

NEWS AUDIO #6: … a deadly spike in something called Legionnaires’ disease.

NARRATOR: During the crisis, Flint suffers one of the largest outbreaks in U.S. history of Legionnaires’ disease.

NEWS AUDIO #7: State health officials say the number of deaths from Legionnaire’s disease in the Flint area has now grown.

NARRATOR: One of the deadliest water-borne illnesses in the developed world, it’s a severe form of pneumonia caused by legionella bacteria. Experts suspect that the legionella outbreak was triggered by Flint’s water treatment.

AMY PRUDEN: To our knowledge, what happened in Flint is really the first example of where lack of corrosion control can trigger a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak.

NARRATOR: According to Amy Pruden and Marc Edwards, chlorine added to Flint’s water should have killed off legionella, but without corrosion control, Flint’s water filled up with rusty iron. Chlorine reacted with rust and was used up, and with no chlorine to stop it, legionella thrived inside Flint’s water pipes. Ninety people were infected; 12 of them died.

In October 2015, 18 months after the switch, Flint finally changes back to the Detroit water system and once again receives properly treated water from Lake Huron. But it will take many months for Flint’s water pipes to rebuild the protective scale that’s been stripped away.

The Virginia Tech study concludes that over 40 percent of Flint homes had elevated levels of lead in their water, and as many as 8,000 children under the age of six were exposed.

DAYNE WALLING: A rise in the number of children with elevated blood lead levels was devastating for our community.

NARRATOR: Crucial evidence from Freedom of Information Act filings by Marc Edwards, the A.C.L.U. and others reveals the failure of Michigan’s water and health officials to protect the public.

Thirteen criminal indictments follow, including emergency managers, and officials from Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality, Department of Health and Human Services and the Flint Water Plant.

BILL SCHUETTE (Michigan Attorney General, film clip): Flint was a casualty of arrogance, absence of accountability, shirking responsibility.

NARRATOR: Charges included tampering with evidence, conspiracy and willful neglect of duty.

Susan Hedman, head of E.P.A. Region 5, resigns under criticism.

DAYNE WALLING: One of the emails, from the E.P.A. said, “Is Flint the kind of community we should go to bat for?” And you know, I just felt sick to my stomach to think that my family, my neighborhood, my city somehow counts less?

COURT OFFICER AT A HEARING: … the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

DAYNE WALLING: And then later, the state Department of Environmental Quality admits that they had misinterpreted the Lead and Copper Rule, that the orthophosphate should’ve been ordered from the beginning.

KEITH CREAGH (Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, news clip): Corrosion treatment should’ve been required by the Department of Environmental Quality.

DAYNE WALLING: That’s not how government’s supposed to work. It’s not how science is supposed to work.

NARRATOR: Mayor Dayne Walling, who drank the water on T.V. during the crisis, is voted out of office.

Over a year and a half after the switch, officials declare a state of emergency. So far, federal and state agencies have provided over 300-million dollars to help the city, but some estimate that as much as a billion-and-a-half dollars will be needed to upgrade the water system and provide services for families and children affected by the crisis.

For now, bottled water is a way of life.

CHERKEETHA LOVE (Flint Water Response Team): We’re passing out water for the residents of Flint, for us. We all need the water, because we have lead and different things going on with our water.

LEEANNE WALTERS: I tell people if they don’t believe Flint is that bad, “Turn off the water to your house—go in your basement or wherever your shutoff is, turn it off for the entire week—and, and see how it is to live.” My children will never drink the water from a tap ever again. My family will never, ever, ever trust a water source again, just because we’re told to.

GINA LUSTER: I mean, the amount of water bottles just my small family goes through would shock the average person. Easily, you can go through a case of water just with one dinner.

We didn’t think we would be living years like that. We thought this would be over.

When they did that switch, they did it for financial …?

VEO LUSTER (Water Distribution Specialist): Yeah, it was financial.

NARRATOR: Gina Lusters’ father is a water distribution specialist helping to replace pipes in Flint.

VEO LUSTER: Two of the grandchildren had exceedingly high levels. The youngest one is just, what, eight now, so she’s been drinking it, you know, she don’t know any other water system, you know?

NARRATOR: Flint is now working to replace about 20,000 service lines, but how many more Flints are out there? A report estimates that over 18-million Americans were served by water systems in violation of the Lead and Copper Rule in 2015.

MICHAEL MCDANIEL: This is going to happen over and over again. We’re seeing it here. We’re going to see it across the rest of the country. Any older industrial city where you’ve got older service lines and older mains that have been there for 80, 90 years. If we aren’t replacing those on a regular basis, we’re going to have the same problems here.

MIKE SCHOCK: It’s going to take time. There are literally millions of pipes. We don’t know how many lead pipes there are, but it’s many millions. And this is going to take decades and decades to do.

The interim solution is we need stringent corrosion control and very proactive monitoring.

NARRATOR: Some of the same agencies criticized during the crisis, are now supporting the work to heal Flint.

MARC EDWARDS: I saw how hard E.P.A. and M.D.E.Q. have worked to help get Flint fixed since January of 2016. It’s been amazing.

NARRATOR: Today Marc Edwards and local authorities agree that the water in Flint is safe to drink with a filter.

VEO LUSTER: I get emotional when I think about the kids, and…excuse me for a minute.

But, you know, as a licensed water professional in the State of Michigan, you see, you read about, you hear about, you talk about the long-term effects of the bacteria, the heavy metals, the lead, you know what it can do. And you just hope, by the grace of god, that the people are okay.

MIGUEL DEL TORAL: From the standpoint of science, once you start to corrupt the science, the validity of the results that you’re trying to present get called into question. If you corrupt the science, in a sense, you corrupt your agency. And once the public loses trust, it’s going to be very difficult to try to regain that trust. And it may take a long time.

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This Department of Defense report has never been publicized to those serving in our military. The Department of Defense is not telling anyone in any of our armed forces that they will suffer the impacts of lead poisoning from their service to our nation and that their health conditions will deteriorate as they age….

“…High risk of heart disease, kidney damage, and dementia.”

“A review of the epidemiologic and toxicologic data allowed the committee to conclude that there is overwhelming evidence that the OSHA standard provides inadequate protection for DOD firing-range personnel and for any other worker populations covered by the general industry standard. Specifically, the premise that maintaining BLLs under 40 μg/dL for a working lifetime will protect workers adequately is not valid; by inference, the OSHA PEL and action level are also inadequate for protecting firing-range workers. The committee found sufficient evidence to infer causal relationships between BLLs under 40 μg/dL and adverse neurologic, hematopoietic, renal, reproductive, and cardio-vascular effects. The committee also found compelling evidence of developmental effects in offspring exposed to lead in utero and during breastfeeding, and this raises additional concerns about exposures of women of childbearing age….

Despite changes in military tactics and technology, proficiency in the handling of weapons remains a cornerstone in the training of the modern combat soldier. Modern military forces are trained on one or more small arms, including handguns, shotguns, rifles, and machine guns. Many of the projectiles used in military small arms contain lead. Exposure to lead during weapons training on firing ranges therefore is an important occupational-health concern.

Lead is a ubiquitous metal in the environment, and its adverse effects on human health are well documented. The nervous system is an important target of lead toxicity, which causes adverse cognitive, mood, and psychiatric effects in the central nervous system of adults; causes various peripheral nervous system effects; and has been linked to neurodegenerative diseases. Lead exposure also causes anemia, nephrotoxicity, a variety of adverse reproductive and developmental effects, small increases in blood pressure and an increased risk of hypertension particularly in middle-aged and older people, and various effects in other organ systems, including joint pain and gastrointestinal pain (ATSDR 2007; EPA 2012; NTP 2012).”

___________________

1After the committee completed its evaluation and released the prepublication draft of this report, the Army submitted data on BLLs for Department of the Army civilian personnel working at shoot houses. The Army’s submission can be obtained by contacting the National Research Council’s Public Access Records Office at (202) 334-3543 or paro@nas.edu.”

 

https://www.nap.edu/read/18249/chapter/2?fbclid=IwAR3hGjGU2ALCbaPK2Pb9DyNHotGcrWNf1IJqJISeCkBtAaxe_lzMamqz7B4#4

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It’s not only ethylene tree based synthetics that destroy the brain but also heavy metals. All metals hijack the way the body processes calcium in our biological machines.

PBS Nova’s Poisoned Water explains…

“NARRATOR: Dr. Kim Cecil is an investigator for the Cincinnati Lead Study.

DR. KIM CECIL: So, lead tricks the body into thinking it’s calcium. Whenever lead has got into your body, primarily through ingestion, it goes and hides where calcium should be, in the bones and in the cells of the brain.

Visualize a neuron. There’s the neuron that’s sending the signal and then another that’s receiving the signal, and, typically, calcium is in that gap.

NARRATOR: Calcium is essential for neurons to communicate, but when a child is exposed to lead, lead gets in that gap and blocks the flow of calcium. Without calcium, synapses get weaker and brain function suffers.
Understanding how we evolved with calcium helps you understand how destructive heavy metals are to our biological machines. Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Microbial Evolution by Lynn Margulis and Dorian Sagan provides much understanding.

“Crucial to their transfer onto land was what animals did with the element calcium. Calcium is a raw material in the making of many of the most magnificent biological structures, such as the human skull or the White Cliffs of Dover. The amount of calcium in solution in the cytoplasm of a nucleated cell must always be kept around one part in ten million. Yet calcium in seawater can be 10,000 times or more higher than this. Calcium tends to rush into cells, causing them to be continually ridding themselves of it. As all cells with nuclei do now, the first animal cells had to continuously export calcium outside their cells in order to stay healthy. Today, calcium carbonate is made by special cells inside membraneous sacs. The chalky substance is transferred in precrystaline form via channels–along which run the ubiquitous microtubules–to the outside of the cell.

Calcium plays a central part in the metabolism of all nucleated cells. It plays an indispensable role in amoeboid cell movement, cell secretion, microtubule formation, and cell adhesion. Dissolved calcium must be continually removed from the surrounding solution for microtubules to function in mitosis, meiotic sex, and brain activity. Because the “chemo-” part of chemoelectric messages sent by the nerve cells in the brain has largely to do with calcium, the neuron-firing communication networks of the brain depend as much on calcium as telephone communication does on copper telephone wire. By 620 million years ago the first tiny animal brains had evolved.

Perhaps more important for these early animals was the use of calcium in the operation of muscles. Muscles contract when dissolved calcium and ATP are released in precise quantities around them. The calcium must be scrupulously kept in quantities far lower than those of seawater or chemistry takes over and the calcium phosphate comes out of the solution in a solid form. (This is why athletes overworking their muscles tend to develop calcium deposits.) Muscle tissue, and the actinomyosin proteins comprising it, tends to be the same in all animals. The origin of actin is an evolutionary mystery; an actinlike protein has been reported in the putative ancestor to our cells, Thermoplasma. If confirmed we have still another case of an invention that originated in the bacterial microcosm.

The soft bodied underwater worms and blobs of Ediacaran times swam using muscles. To do so they controlled their calcium metabolism. Since muscle contraction responds to calcium release, it is extremely probable that the early Cambrian sea creatures, even the earliest squiggling annelid worms, must surely have had muscles under calcium control. Like Greek and Roman breastplates and helmets, some of these early animals must have secreted bits and pieces of calcareous armor and protective films that were not yet full skeletons.

It is rather remarkable that in otherwise very closely related species, one will calcify while the other will not. For instance, the only difference between certain closely related species of coralline red algae is that one is covered by stony calcium carbonate plates while the other is totally soft. Stephen Weiner of the Weizmann Research Institute in Israel believes that the calcifying species makes enough of the proteins having a regular spacing to fit the calcium carbonate crystals in the proteins’ framework. The other species, however, makes too little or an altered form of the protein with inappropriate spacing. On the other hand, since in some cases separate species of organisms which branched apart millions of years ago will both produce calcium carbonate today, it is probable that the ability to precipitate calcium compounds in a regular manner has successfully evolved many times in many different species for many distinct purposes.

Always used by nucleated cells, excess calcium must be excreted or harmlessly stockpiled out of solution. Since Cambrian times organisms have been stockpiling their reserves as calcium phosphate, which takes such forms as teeth and bones, or as calcium carbonate, as in chalky shells.

Skeletons did not appear out of nowhere during the Cambrian: Ediacaran muscles preceded Cambrian skeletons. The need to continuously respond to calcium surpluses in the cell made it easy for some animals to stockpile calcium salts inside or outside their bodies in dump heaps that eventually became skeletons and body armor. Just as termite nests are largely constructed of insect excrement and saliva, so skeletons and teeth are made of compounds that originally had to be excreted as waste.

Most animal shells and outer coats today are composed of calcium carbonate. Tiny ocean protists such as foraminifera and coccolithophorids extruded so much calcium into the water over such long periods of time that they made the famous piece of English real estate, the White Cliffs of Dover, a towering deposit of limestone and chalk. (Like coal or oil, such organic carbon reserves are not wasted but held in biospheric storage until life discovers new ways of recycling them.)

The new organs that supplanted the old, waterlogged ones were forced to be successful. Gills, expert at culling oxygen from water, were useless in the air. Over the millennia they became relics, like the gill slits that look like tiny scars under the ears of human fetuses. Lungs which could deliver air to the circulatory system evolved in some chordates, such as the amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. An analogous system of air channels called trachea evolved in land-adapted arthropods such as spiders and insects.

When facing frightening environmental perils, organisms warded off the need for radical change by incorporating the new into the tried-an-true old. The assembly of bones that had evolved in swimming fish served later to support amphibians on land, and to aerodynamically support birds in the air. Calcium waste near muscles became basic construction materials. Early vertebrates evolved into fish–bilaterally symmetrical beings that were essentially escape artists and speedsters, darting away from predators and rapidly pursuing their prey.

Competition among vicious predators along with desiccation in shallow waters forced early animals to live on land. But the scorching earth was no happy alternative to the warring seas. The land was in some ways an Edenic paradise, a sanctuary originally free of dangerous predators. But it was also a separate hell–an environment of torturous sun, biting wind, and decreased buoyancy. Calcified structures such as snail shells began as dumps for excess calcium but wound up as a combination of gravitational support structures, shields against sunlight and predators, and organic “aquariums” protecting against the dangers of desiccation.”

Pages 184 – 187

Lead, Fluoride, Cadmium, Aluminum, Cobalt and more are all metals that destroy our biological machines. The Bleeding Edge documentary examined the dementia symptoms of those who received cobalt hip replacements. Understand that there’s little thought being applied to consumer health when they profit from selling you the products that destroy your health and they also profit from treating you.
“I was unaware that my particular implant, like most hip implants available in the United States, had only a cursory pre-market review by the FDA… Dr. Tower and DBEC were the first to recognize that excessive wear of metal-on-metal hips (a chrome-cobalt ball rubbing on a chrome-cobalt socket) could not only result in failure of the replacement because of damage to the tissues about the hip, but they also might result in cobalt poisoning (cobaltism).”
Heavy metals and synthetic chemical manufacturing are also why mot synthetics are contaminated with heavy metals. It’s why PVC frequently contains high levels of lead. That has not stopped manufacturers from manufacturing and selling infant baby products made with PVC.

 

 

Green Chemistry: Theory & Practice explains the use of heavy metals in synthetic chemical manufacturing.

3.1 Alternative feedstocks/starting materials

Currently, 98% of all organic chemicals synthesized in the United Sates are made from petroleum feedstocks. Petroleum refining takes up 15% of the total energy used in the US, and its energy usage is rising because the low quality raw petroleum available now requires more energy for refinement. During conversion to useful organic chemicals, petroleum undergoes oxidation, the addition of oxygen or an equivalent; this oxidation step has historically been one of the most environmentally polluting steps in chemical synthesis. As a result of these consideration, it is important to reduce our use of petroleum-based products by using alternative feedstocks….

The exploration of biological sources of alternative feedstocks need not be limited to agricultural products: agricultural waste or biomass, and non-food-related bioproducts, which are often made up of a variety of lignocellulosic materials, may provide important alternative feedstocks.

Other classes of alternative feedstocks are also emerging, such as light. For example, heavy metals, which are often used in petroleum oxidation processes, are also quite toxic and are carcinogens or cause damage to neurological systems. Recently discovered alternative syntheses replace the heavy metal reagents with the use of visible light to carry out the required chemical transformations.”

Chasing Molecules – The Polycarbonate Problem. BPA, Benzene, Phenols, & Carbonyl Chloride (also known as Phosgene)Chasing Molecules by Elizabeth Grossman
An excerpt from the chapter, “The Polycarbonate Problem.”BPA, Benzene, Phenols, & Carbonyl Chloride (also known as Phosgene)

“Phenols are commonly made by oxidizing benzene, which essentially means adding oxygen to benzene.”

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Public Health Implications of Great Lakes Areas of Concern (AOC)

Great Lakes Report

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Our Ruling class have always utilized munitions to enforce their slavery based economic models. (It’s too bad that the working class fails to understand that munitions come in bomb, pill, injection, spray, and chemical additive forms and are born on the ethylene tree rooted in fossil fuels and primarily petroleum feedstocks.)

Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and The Carolinas by Sally E. Hadden & The Militia and Militarism (1899) by Rosa Luxemburg. An important history lesson

“The colonists’ willingness to run the risks of owning slaves sprang both from their racism and from their greed. Not content to market products cultivated solely by their own efforts, English colonists rapidly began using indentured servants and bondsmen to increase their productive capacity. The first settlers of Virginia and the Carolinas either arrived with their own slaves or soon bought Africans from traders visiting the colonies….. Thus the laws that Southern colonists created to regulate their slaves did not come exclusively from England, but were derived from their legal imagination, from their long-standing participation in the militia, and from neighboring Caribbean slaveholding colonies… For all its flaws and later alterations, the Barbadian slave code of 1661 provided the model for several other English slave-holding colonies. The 1664 Jamaican code and the Antiguan slave code of 1702 were patterned after it. Both of these areas experienced a huge influx of Barbadian planters to their islands. Likewise, when Barbadians settled South Carolina after 1670, colonists borrowed heavily from their Barbadian experiences in designing the first slave laws and enforcement groups on land.”

“Controlling slave movement in cities created special problems for patrols… Many city slaves went without passes until the patrols became active. Rather than force owners to write passes routinely, larger cities like Charleston devised badge systems: a slave’s owner purchased a badge from the city, good for one year, that the slave had to wear at all times. Although slaves did not always wear their badges, and some owners flouted the law, badges gave patrollers a means to avoid inspecting passes in the largest Southern cities. Even seventy years after freedom came, one former bondsman declared that he still had his badge and pass to show the patrol, so that no one could molest him.” 114

“With us, every citizen is concerned in the maintenance of order, and in promoting honesty and industry among those of the lowest class who are our slaves; and our habitual vigilance renders standing armies, whether of soldiers or policemen, entirely unnecessary. Small guards in our cities, and occasional patrols in the country, insure us a repose and security known no where else.” 1845 letter from former South Carolina governor James Henry Hammond to Thomas Clarkson.

“Innocent slaves found themselves named as insurrectionary accomplices, particularly in areas where bondsmen outnumbered whites. After the Turner rebellion in 1831, slaves in Virginia and North Carolina were apprehended who clearly had no intention of rebelling, merely because someone wanted charges of insurrection brought against them. Joseph Skinner, a North Carolinian, believed that patrols abused harmless bondsmen excessively during insurrection scares. “Not the least outrage has been here committed except by a few patrol… much more [is] to be apprehended from the rash unparalleled conduct of whites than from an insurrection of the negroes.” Although Southern whites spent most of their time living in complacent vulnerability, when roused from their torpor, the mortal fear of slave rebellions frequently prompted overreactions.” – page 143

“The young slave Harriet Jacobs vividly described how patrols behaved at the height of the Turner insurrection scare: every home in the town was to be searched, and she knew it would be done by patrols augmented with country ruffians and poor whites. She thought the impoverished whites who joined the patrollers exulted in the task because it gave them opportunity to “exercise a little brief authority, and show their subserviency to the slaveholders.” During the day, they searched houses, and in the night “they formed themselves into patrol bands, and went wherever they chose among the colored people, acting out their brutal will.”… for two weeks, the patrols abused the bondsmen and free blacks by whipping them, throwing them in jail, and stealing their belongings.” – page 146

“One of James Monroe’s correspondents wrote that “[t]he disaffection of the blacks is daily gaining extent & boldness which may produce effects, at the approaching festival of Xmas… The same heedless Imbecility that destroys our Efforts against the external Enemy, paralyses every thing like vigilance & Police, in respect to the more dangerous internal population.” 154 pages 162 – 163

Virginia residents proved reluctant to use their militia against the British, not because they feared their old enemy, but because of the danger posed by slaves, who would be that much stronger when the militia left to fight the British. 156 Similarly, Vice President Elbridge Gerry’s son described increased wartime patrolling in Washington D.C., as an indispensable replacement for the militia’s presence. In his diary he recorded that “[a]s the militia are ordered off, I expect to patrole more frequently, and this is very necessary, for the blacks in some places refuse to work, and they say they shall soon be free, and then the white people must look out…. Should we be attacked, there will be great danger of the blacks rising, and to prevent this, patroles are very necessary, to keep them in awe.” 157
http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674012349

The Militia and Militarism (1899) by Rosa Luxemburg (There’s a reason she was assassinated)

“How can this phenomenon operate on behalf of the working class? Ostensibly in such a way as to rid it of a part of its reserve army, i.e. those who force down wages, by maintaining a standing army; in this way its working conditions improve. And what does this mean? Only this: in order to reduce the supply in the labour market, in order to restrict competition, the worker in the first place gives away a portion of his salary in the form of indirect taxes in order to maintain his competitors as soldiers. Secondly, he makes his competitor into an instrument with which the capitalist state can contain, and if necessary suppress bloodily, any move he makes to improve his situation (strikes, coalitions, etc.); and thus this instrument can thwart the very same improvement in the worker’s situation for which, according to Schippel, militarism was necessary. Thirdly, the worker makes this competitor into the most solid pillar of political reaction in the State and thus of his own enslavement.

In other words, by accepting militarism, the worker prevents his wages from being reduced by a certain amount, but in return is largely deprived of the possibility of fighting continuously for an increase in his wage and an improvement of his situation. He gains as a seller of his labour, but at the same time loses his political freedom of movement as a citizen, so that he must ultimately also lose as the seller of his labour. He removes a competitor from the labour market only to see a defender of his wage slavery arise in his place; he prevents his wages being lowered only to find that the prospects both of a permanent improvement in his situation and of his ultimate economic, political and social liberation are diminished. This is the actual meaning of the ‘release’ of economic pressure on the working class achieved by militarism. Here, as in all opportunistic political speculation, we see the great aims of socialist class emancipation sacrificed to petty practical interests of the moment, interests moreover which, when examined more closely, prove to be essentially illusory….

But what makes supplying the military in particular essentially more profitable than, for example, State expenditures on cultural ends (schools, roads, etc.), is the incessant technical innovations of the military and the incessant increase in its expenditures. Militarism thus represents an inexhaustible, and indeed increasingly lucrative, source of capitalist gain, and raises capital to a social power of the magnitude confronting the worker in, for example, the enterprises of Krupp and Stumm. Militarism – which to society as a whole represents a completely absurd economic waste of enormous productive forces – and which for the working class means a lowering of its standard of living with the objective of enslaving it socially – is for the capitalist class economically the most alluring, irreplaceable kind of investment and politically and socially the best support for their class rule. Therefore, when Schippel abruptly declares militarism to be a necessary ‘release’ of economic pressure, not only does he apparently confuse society’s interests with that of capitalism’s interests, thus – as we said at the outset – adopting the bourgeois point of view, but he also bases his argument on the principle of a harmony of interests between capital and labour by assuming that every economic advantage to the entrepreneur is necessarily an advantage to the worker as well.”
https://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1899/02/26.htm

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Poisoned Waters

SENIOR PRODUCER AND CORRESPONDENT
Hedrick Smith

PRODUCED BY
Marc Shaffer

WRITTEN BY
Hedrick Smith and Rick Young

DIRECTED BY
Rick Young

ANNOUNCER: Puget Sound, Chesapeake Bay- they are America’s great coastal estuaries, and they are in peril.

KATHY FLETCHER, People for Puget Sound: I would put Puget Sound in the intensive care unit. The situation is critical.

WILL BAKER, Chesapeake Bay Foundation: The Chesapeake Bay is like the canary in the coal mine. It is an indicator of what we are now learning to expect in any body of water across the planet.

ANNOUNCER: Three decades after the Clean Water Act, FRONTLINE takes a hard look at why America has failed for so long to clean up the nation’s waterways-

J. CHARLES FOX, EPA Asst. Administrator, 1998-’01: Agriculture is by far the largest source of pollution to all of the waters in the country.

EXPERT: We’re not talking about little Ma and Pa on the farm anymore. We are talking about industrial production. It is industrial waste.

ANNOUNCER: And how contaminated waters threaten not only wildlife-

ROBERT LAWRENCE, M.D., Johns Hopkins School of Public Health: You have frogs with six legs, male frogs with ovaries-

ANNOUNCER: -but ultimately threaten our own health, as well.

EXPERT: The same things that are killing animals will kill people, too.

ANNOUNCER: In a two-hour special report, FRONTLINE correspondent Hedrick Smith uncovers the danger to the nation’s waterways, tracking new threats-

HEDRICK SMITH, Correspondent: If you were living in Washington, D.C., would you drink water coming out of the Potomac?

VICKI BLAZER, U.S. Geological Survey: Probably not.

ANNOUNCER: -confronting new challenges-

HEDRICK SMITH: This is sick?

MIKE RACINE, Wash. Scuba Divers Assn.: This is sick!

EXPERT: It’s like a cancer. It’s growing.

ANNOUNCER: -and discovering the ultimate problem.

JAY MANNING, Director, Wash. Dept. of Ecology: It’s about the way we all live. And unfortunately, we are all polluters. I am. You are. All of us are.

ANNOUNCER: Tonight, FRONTLINE investigates what’s poisoning America’s waters.

HEDRICK SMITH, Correspondent: [voice-over] The Chesapeake Bay at dawn, one of those magical moments when you feel at peace and in harmony with nature. For me, the Chesapeake is a special place, an extraordinary natural treasure. Over the past 30 years, I’ve spent a lot of time on the bay, sailing, hiking, swimming, crabbing. I love the water, its calm, its beauty, its majesty, and I’m fascinated by its meandering shorelines.

In the early morning light, the bay can look so pure and pristine. But that’s deceiving. I know that like most of America’s waterways, Chesapeake Bay is in trouble despite years of trying to save it, and that worries me.

I wanted a firsthand look, and so I headed out on the water with Larry Simns, a waterman who’s been commercially fishing the bay for 60 years.

LARRY SIMNS, Waterman: In its peak time, if you drained the bay, the crabs and the fish and oysters and everything would probably be 10 foot deep on the bottom all over the whole bay.

HEDRICK SMITH: Over the past several decades, Simns has watched the good times of bountiful harvests slip away.

[on camera] It’s about like your home waters here.

LARRY SIMNS: Yeah.

HEDRICK SMITH: Huh?

LARRY SIMNS: Yeah.

HEDRICK SMITH: What is the Chesapeake Bay like today for watermen?

LARRY SIMNS: The only thing that we have in abundance that we had back then was the striped bass, the rockfish. Other than that, everything else is diminished. The oysters, we used to catch two million bushel a year. Now we catch a hundred thousand bushel. I never, ever dreamed that I wouldn’t be catching shad anymore, I wouldn’t be catching yellow perch anymore, I wouldn’t be catching tarpon anymore. I never, ever dreamed that that would come to an end.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] Simns took me to the old fishing town of Rock Hall, where watermen were bringing in the day’s crab catch. Crabs have long been the trademark of Chesapeake Bay, but the catch is now down more than 50 percent from 25 years ago.

[on camera] So how was the catch today?

DAVID KIRWAN, Crabber: Well, it dropped off a little bit today.

HEDRICK SMITH: Dropped off. So what are you coming in with, six, seven, eight bushels?

DAVID KIRWAN: I think it was nine altogether.

HEDRICK SMITH: Nine bushels? Ten years ago, how many would you have caught on an average day?

DAVID KIRWAN: Be about 30.

HEDRICK SMITH: About 30 bushels, about three times as many.

DAVID KIRWAN: Yeah.

HEDRICK SMITH: How do you feel about the bay and what’s happened to it?

DAVID KIRWAN: I think it’s a tragedy. I think- a little upset that my children can’t enjoy this way of life that I cherish, you know?

LARRY SIMNS: In Rock Hall harbor, all that used to be processing houses for striped bass, for oysters, for clams, for everything that we was harvesting.

HEDRICK SMITH: So a lot of people in the fish and crab and oyster business went out of business.

LARRY SIMNS: Yeah.

TOM HORTON, Bay Author and Reporter: You’re talking about billions of dollars of economic impact with oysters, crabs, shad, striped bass. The decline in the fisheries has just been dramatic. I wouldn’t have thought even 10 or 15 years ago that we would literally lose oysters as a commercial fishery. We have. It’s done.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] Watermen are seeing the symptoms of decline, but the deeper problem, I learned, is that the very dynamics of the bay’s ecosystem are being fundamentally altered by human impact. The bay is acutely vulnerable because its watershed is so large, 11,000 miles of shoreline, and it drains big rivers from six states.

TOM HORTON: In all of North America, it’s the largest estuary. We’re talking a sixth of the East Coast, from Cooperstown, New York, out into West Virginia, almost down to North Carolina.

HEDRICK SMITH: It is the receptacle of an enormous volume of water in a uniquely shallow basin. Its average depth is only 21 feet, making the bay an ecological hothouse.

TOM HORTON: It’s fabulously productive but also exquisitely vulnerable to land use because it has a huge drainage basin. So you have, you know, the classic place for trying to determine whether humans and nature can coexist.

HEDRICK SMITH: One problem for Chesapeake Bay is that humans have drastically overfished the resources, especially crabs. But scientists have also tied the dramatic decline in fisheries here to man-made pollution and a growing phenomenon called “dead zones.”

TOM HORTON: Dead zones happen when too much fertilizer – nitrogen, phosphorous – comes in. It grows lots of excess algae. The algae die, decompose, suck up the oxygen from the deeper waters, which aquatic life needs to live.

HEDRICK SMITH: This is what a healthy, oxygen-rich bay bottom looks like, full of lush grasses where fish and crabs can grow. A dead zone is completely different, barren and empty.

HOWARD ERNST, Bay Historian: The bottom of the bay, when there’s an algae bloom or when you have a dead zone, is as dead as the face of the moon. There is absolutely no oxygen in these dead zones, and nothing can grow that requires oxygen for survival.

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] Crabs can’t make it? Fish can’t-

HOWARD ERNST: Crabs can’t make it. Oysters can’t make it. Fish that get caught in the dead zone will literally die if they can’t get out of the dead zone. They’ll float up to the surface. Their bellies will explode. And you’ll see fish kills throughout the Chesapeake Bay.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] In the heat of summer, dead zones now occupy as much as 40 percent of the main stem of the Chesapeake Bay. But it’s not just a bay-wide problem, it’s worldwide. All across the planet, dead zones have been doubling in frequency and size every decade. There’s one in the Gulf of Mexico the size of the state of Massachusetts.

[http://www.pbs.org: More about dead zones]

Pollution is not just creating dead zones, it’s playing havoc with human health and recreation.

NEWSCASTER: -and those health advisories at Sandy Point Beach are still in effect and will be-

HEDRICK SMITH: Every year, more beaches have to close periodically because of pollution.

NEWSCASTER: People are urged to avoid direct contact with the water on the east-

J. CHARLES FOX, EPA Asst. Administrator, 1998-’01: The unfortunate reality is that people get sick from contact with water every single day, and we have information suggesting that that problem is getting worse today than it was 10 years ago. And this is a result of a number of different contaminants being in the water that ultimately can make people sick.

WILL BAKER, Chesapeake Bay Foundation: Today we’re at a point at which this system called the Chesapeake Bay may be on the verge of ceasing to function in its most basic capacities. And what do I mean by that? Providing a place for people to swim – recreation – providing a source of seafood – shellfish, finfish, oysters, crabs – underwater grasses which support the crab population – and being a system that is absolutely wonderful to look at, to support tourism, to be a source of real pride to the region.

We are at the verge where all of those functions of the Chesapeake Bay that we value could be lost to the next generation unless we take dramatic and fundamental action today.

HEDRICK SMITH: What leaves the bay’s defenders distraught is not only its perilous condition but the public’s evident loss of interest and the failure of federal and state governments to stick to their repeated promises over the past 25 years to clean up the bay.

J. CHARLES FOX: There has been so much investment in science and in modeling and in monitoring. We know today precisely what is necessary to save the Chesapeake, and now it’s very clear that it comes down to the question of political will.

TOM HORTON: You know, there’s a tendency to blame it on lack of political will. Well, hell, who elects the politicians and who reelects them? Last time I looked, it was us. We ran out of excuses for delaying many, many years ago around the Chesapeake. We can afford it. We don’t necessarily want to pay for it, but we can afford it. So I have to say that, collectively, we don’t care enough.

HEDRICK SMITH: There was a time when we as a nation did care enough to demand action, four decades ago, when the country was rocked by a series of environmental disasters.

ROBERT F. KENNEDY, Jr., Waterkeeper Alliance: Well, I remember what it was like before Earth Day. I remember when the Cuyahoga River burned with flames that were eight stories high. I remember when- the Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969 that closed virtually all the beaches in southern California. I remember when they declared Lake Erie dead. I remember that I couldn’t swim in the Hudson or the Charles or the Potomac when I was growing up.

HEDRICK SMITH: We could see the pollution, smell it, even touch it. The problem was in our faces, and the public demand for action exploded on Earth Day.

ROBERT KENNEDY, Jr.: In 1970, this accumulation of insults drove 20 million Americans out onto the street, 10 percent of our population, the largest public demonstration in American history.

WILL BAKER: There was anger at the state of the world, at the state of your own back yard, whether it be a water body or the air or your mountain range, whatever it was you related to as the environment. There was anger that we as a country had let it go, and there was very much of a grass roots rebellion saying this has got to stop.

WILLIAM RUCKELSHAUS, EPA Administrator, 1970-’73: It was a big issue. It exploded on the country. It forced the a Republican administration and a president which had never really- he had never thought about this very much, President Nixon- it forced him to deal with it because public- the public said, “This is intolerable. We’ve got to do something about it.”

HEDRICK SMITH: Responding to congressional pressure, Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency. He picked Bill Ruckelshaus, a Justice Department lawyer with a solid Republican pedigree, as its first administrator, and Ruckleshaus quickly took charge.

WILLIAM RUCKELSHAUS: We had to select some big, visible polluters, both industrial and municipal, go after them, make sure the public understood we were being responsive to their concerns, and that would energize the agency and get us in a position to do things that needed to be done in order to address the problem.

HEDRICK SMITH: Congress armed Ruckelshaus and the EPA with a raft of new environmental laws, like the Clean Water Act, that imposed strict pollution limits and penalties for violators. The act called for America’s waterways to be fishable and swimmable again by 1983. It had strong bipartisan support in Congress, but not, it turns out, from President Nixon.

LEON BILLINGS, U.S. Senate staff, 1966-’80: When we finally passed the Clean Water Act in the Senate and the House, Nixon vetoed it. And for the first time in the Nixon administration, he had a veto overridden, substantially and significantly.

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] And what does that say, Nixon was out of step with the country, Nixon didn’t care about the problem?

LEON BILLINGS: It was my impression- and I’m a Democrat, so I’ve got to be forgiven for that, but it was my impression that Nixon’s interest in the environment was strictly political.

WILLIAM RUCKELSHAUS: He didn’t know much about the environment, and frankly, he wasn’t very curious about it. He never asked me the whole time I was at EPA, “Is the air really dirty? Is something wrong with the water? What are we worried about here?” He would warn me. He said, “You’ve got to be worried about that”- “eh-pa.” He called it “eh-pa.” He was the only one person in the country that called it “eh-pa.” Everybody else in the country-

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] EPA-

WILLIAM RUCKELSHAUS: EPA. He’d call it “eh-pa.” And he said, “Those people over there- now, don’t get captured by that bureaucracy.”

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] But with bipartisan backing in Congress, Ruckelshaus took strong action anyway. He banned DDT, imposed a tight deadline for reducing auto emissions, sued several cities and big steel and chemical companies for polluting the air and water. His tough approach made enemies.

WILLIAM RUCKELSHAUS: Most of the people running big American manufacturing facilities in those days believed this was all a fad, it was going to go away, and and all they had to do was sort of hunker down until the public opinion subsided, public concern subsided, and it would go away.

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] When you went after the big polluters, you sued them, you took them to court, what was the reaction of U.S. Steel?

WILLIAM RUCKELSHAUS: Oh, boy, they didn’t like it. I remember going up to see Ed Cott, who was the CEO of U.S. Steel, he told me, he said, “You know we don’t like you very much.” And he said, “We don’t- we certainly don’t like your agency.” And I said, “Well, if that’s your attitude, then we’re probably going to get into a fight over it.”

HEDRICK SMITH: So you had to enforce the law. You had to be a tough regulator.

WILLIAM RUCKELSHAUS: That’s right. You had to reassure the public that this was a problem the government was taking seriously. We had to be tough. We had to issue standards and we had to enforce them.

[http://www.pbs.org: Read the Ruckleshaus interview]

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] One of the first big regulatory success stories came right here on the Potomac River.

J. CHARLES FOX, EPA Asst. Administrator, 1998-’01: The Potomac River goes up to the mountains of Appalachia. It comes past our nation’s capital, and then it enters the estuary of the Chesapeake Bay. And what we saw in the Potomac River in the l960s was what was seen in many rivers around the country, where it smelled so bad, you didn’t want to get anywhere near it. And that odor was in large part created by poorly treated sewage.

WILL BAKER, Chesapeake Bay Foundation: If you were out sailing in a small boat and capsized, you had to go in and get a shot or two. I mean, it was literally hazardous to your health to come in contact with the water.

HEDRICK SMITH: Restoring the Potomac meant modernizing the sewage treatment plants along the river like this one, called Blue Plains, just south of Washington. Blue Plains handles the waste of two million people and it embodies just the kind of pollution targeted by the Clean Water Act, pollution coming out of a pipe. And in the 1970s, Blue Plains was the biggest single source of pollution to the Potomac.

CLIFF RANDALL, Wastewater Scientist: Blue Plains was the key wastewater treatment plant that had to be modified if we were really going to make a good effort at restoring the water quality in both the river and in the bay.

HEDRICK SMITH: The Potomac had become overrun with acres of green algae caused by excess nutrients from human waste, like phosphorous and nitrogen.

CLIFF RANDALL: The regulators said, “OK, phosphorus is the problem in the Potomac. Therefore, you people running the wastewater treatment plants will upgrade to remove phosphorus.” And it happened in a very short period of time.

HEDRICK SMITH: But the river didn’t improve all that much. It turned out that they needed to remove nitrogen, too, a costly process. But Cliff Randall found an answer, a new, more economical technology called biological nutrient removal, or BNR.

CLIFF RANDALL: The way we treat sewage is we take in the sewage and we feed it to a large mass of bacteria and other microorganisms, and basically, they eat the sewage.

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] They eat the sewage.

CLIFF RANDALL: That’s correct.

HEDRICK SMITH: Munch, munch, munch.

CLIFF RANDALL: That’s right.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] It took a billion dollars in federal and state funds to modernize Blue Plains with several new technologies, including BNR, but the effort paid off. And more than 100 sewage treatment plants around the bay adopted BNR technology.

[on camera] How much of these early gains were not only the result of technology but of a pretty tough regulatory stick from the EPA and the state governments?

TOM HORTON, Bay Author and Reporter: Well, you know, that was a tried and true formula. I mean, with sewage treatment, where we made the biggest gains early on and continue to make the biggest gains, you have very clear laws. You have penalties. You have deadlines. You have enforcement. You have inspection. I mean, we know what works.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] But the 1980s brought a new era, and the political climate on the environment changed. The winds of deregulation were blowing through Washington, especially during the Reagan years.

Pres. RONALD REAGAN: [January 20, 1981] It is time to check and reverse the growth of government, which shows signs of having grown beyond the consent of the governed. It is my intention to curb the size and influence of the federal establishment.

J. CHARLES FOX, EPA Asst. Administrator, 1998-’01: There’s no question that the Reagan administration, in fact, brought to Washington a deregulatory agenda. I remember back in the Reagan days of seeing memos that would come out from the White House to the Chamber of Commerce and other big businesses, asking them for a list of regulations from which they would want relief.

HEDRICK SMITH: Environmental regulation was a prime target of the Reagan White House for giving relief to American business.

LEON BILLINGS, U.S. Senate staff, 1966-’80: The Reagan administration essentially gutted the EPA. They stopped it in its tracks for a period of six, seven years. Reagan and his White House appointed people to run the Environmental Protection Agency who were flat-out opposed to the mission of the agency and were set to undo that mission.

HEDRICK SMITH: The Reagan administration not only handcuffed EPA on enforcement, it shifted to a new strategy of voluntary compliance, a strategy typified by the Reagan EPA’s new program for Chesapeake Bay.

HOWARD ERNST, Bay Historian: What we created in the Chesapeake Bay was a grand experiment. It was going to be an alternative to the regulatory approach that had swept the EPA, that had swept the federal system. They were going to try to do this in a non-regulatory, cooperative manner,

HEDRICK SMITH: The new approach was long on promises and targets but short on hard deadlines and clear accountability.

LEON BILLINGS: It is a voluntary program. You are never going to effectively deal with a multi-state pollution problem with a voluntary program.

HEDRICK SMITH: The result was the Chesapeake Bay program repeatedly missed its targets, leaving unfulfilled the Clean Water Act’s promise to radically reduce water pollution.

I saw the consequences of how deregulation has played out here on the Chesapeake Bay’s Eastern Shore, where huge factory-scale farms now dominate the landscape and where half the pollution flowing into the bay, much of it from agriculture, remains essentially unregulated.

I had come here to meet Rick Dove, a professional photographer and environmental consultant, who under the authority of the Clean Water Act has been gathering information for a potential citizens’ lawsuit against agricultural polluters. Dove took me up on a small plane and gave me a bird’s-eye view of his detective work on the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

[on camera] You can actually get a really clear picture up here. It’s almost like a diagram up here, looking at it.

RICK DOVE, Waterkeeper Alliance: That’s one of the interesting things about flying, and that is that there are no “No trespassing” signs. You can look straight down and you can see everything you need to see. You can document it and-

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] Dove is investigating the pollution from big chicken farms. As we fly, he points out rows of long, flat sheds, each a couple of hundred yards long, each holding up to 40,000 chickens.

RICK DOVE: No matter where you fly on the Eastern Shore, it’s loaded with these chicken farms.

HEDRICK SMITH: The problem is, where there are chickens, there’s manure.

RICK DOVE: We know there’s bad stuff in poultry waste. Once it gets in those ditches and once those ditches begin to flow down to all these rivers on the Eastern Shore, it’s on its way to the bay. These rivers are delivery systems. Whatever nutrients are flowing in that river are being delivered to the bay.

HEDRICK SMITH: Chicken manure is loaded with nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous. Remember the dead zones in the bay? They were caused by algae, which is fed by nitrogen and phosphorous.

RICK DOVE: We’ll shoot 400, 500, 600 pictures in an afternoon. And we’re going to blow them up and we’re going to take a look at all the details because that’s how you really are able to identify exactly how that poultry waste is leaving that farm and getting to the bay. Today, some of the pictures I took, we’re going to go to the site and we’re going to see that on the ground.

HEDRICK SMITH: The aerial photos lead Dove to a chicken farm he’s been watching for more than a year.

[on camera] That’s Lessig up there?

RICK DOVE: Yes, it is. That’s Lessig’s Farm right there. Those four barns on the right are the original barns, and in the last year, he’s added these two on the end over here.

HEDRICK SMITH: That’s a pretty big place. So we are talking 240,00, 250,000 chickens there at any one time.

[voice-over] Dove can check on farm run-off from public roadways, and the photos give him a clear map of how polluted rainwater moves from the farm to the bay.

RICK DOVE: This is the Lessig Farm. This is animal waste, poultry litter.

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] Big piles of it.

RICK DOVE: Yeah, it is a big pile. But what’s really alarming about this is you can see what’s happened when it’s rained. All of this water has collected around it and it has formed some leachate. And you can see how this leachate is running down alongside, in between these barns.

HEDRICK SMITH: With all the stuff in it.

RICK DOVE: With whatever it’s collected from that poultry waste. It comes out of these pipes here, comes in there, comes over to here, and then it goes under the road and right on down to the Minocan River and right on out to the bay.

HEDRICK SMITH: Wow. And have you tested this water right here?

RICK DOVE: This is where we’ve tested- here, there, over there.

HEDRICK SMITH: And what kind of readings did you get?

RICK DOVE: Extremely high. The E. coli standard is 126 colonies. Theirs was 48,392. And nitrogen and phosphorous all elevated, clearly indicating that animal waste is involved here, and even arsenic at nine times what the normal background level would be. So it was a lot happening here.

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] Farm owner Aaron Lessig did not respond to FRONTLINE’s repeated efforts to ask him about the water tests, which Dove’s team turned over to the EPA.

[on camera] So look who he’s growing for. Lessig is growing these chickens for Perdue.

RICK DOVE: That’s what the sign advertises, says it’s Perdue, Lessing Farm.

FRANK PERDUE: [television commercial] Every Perdue chicken has one of these tags on it. It means you’re getting a fresh, tender, tasty young chicken. I make sure of that because every one of these tags has my name on it.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] Over five decades, Perdue Farms grew from a family business to the dominant poultry processor on the Chesapeake’s Eastern Shore. And as Perdue grew, it transformed the chicken industry.

JIM PERDUE, Chairman, Perdue Farms, Inc.: There used to be 200 companies on the Shore involved in the poultry industry, but they were all independent. So you had an independent hatchery, an independent processing plant. The story of the poultry industry and of Perdue is vertical integration.

HEDRICK SMITH: Integration meant a few big chicken companies controlling all aspects of production. Perdue mushroomed into a multi-billion-dollar conglomerate. Small family chicken farms became chicken factories.

JIM PERDUE: Well, I think capitalism in general stimulates efficiency, and efficiency often is size. And so, you know, I think things had to become bigger in order to keep costs lower so you could maintain, you know, your price structure.

HEDRICK SMITH: Factory-style poultry production drove down chicken prices, and Americans responded. Over the past 50 years, per capita consumption of chicken has tripled. But there’s been another price to all those cheap chickens.

TOM HORTON, Bay Author and Reporter: Poultry farming, like most animal farming, has become much more intense, much more concentrated. Where you had 50,000 chickens on a given plot of ground, you’ve got a half million or two million now, which produces a huge problem of what to do with the manure.

HEDRICK SMITH: In 2008, Delmarva peninsula poultry farms raised more than 570 million chickens, and all those chickens produced massive mountains of manure, 1.5 billion pounds a year. That’s more manure than the annual human waste from four big cities- New York, Washington, San Francisco and Atlanta- all put together.

Before mass production chicken farms, local crop farmers used to absorb the chicken manure. Now there’s way too much for them to absorb.

J. CHARLES FOX, EPA Asst. Administrator, 1998-’01: Agriculture is by far the largest source of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay and it is arguably the single biggest source of pollution to all of the waters in the country.

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] So the problem isn’t just manure, but it’s too much manure.

J. CHARLES FOX: It’s too much manure and arguably too many animals under the current structure. Now there’s all-

HEDRICK SMITH: You mean too many animals in one place.

J. CHARLES FOX: Exactly.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] It’s a problem all over the country- hog farms in the Carolinas and Iowa, poultry farms in Arkansas and Texas, cattle farms in Wisconsin and along the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania.

ROBERT F. KENNEDY, Jr., Waterkeeper Alliance: In terms of just damage to the ecosystems, you know, the destruction of entire ecosystems, of aquatic communities, of fish going extinct, there’s nothing as bad as these factory farm operations. Nothing.

HEDRICK SMITH: So to save the bay, the EPA says it’s essential to get control over the animal manure. What’s made that hard is deciding just who’s responsible for all that manure.

To understand how the chicken business is organized and how it’s run, I checked in with Carole Morison, a successful Perdue grower for many years.

CAROLE MORISON, Chicken Grower: Typically, the farmer has a contract with the company, whether it be Perdue, Tyson’s, whoever, and you contract to raise their chickens. They own the chickens. They just drop them off on the farm for us to raise to a marketable age, and then they come and pick up the chickens, take them for processing.

HEDRICK SMITH: When Perdue required that Morison modernize her chicken houses at a cost of $150,000 or more, she decided to get out of the business. This is her last batch of Perdue chickens.

[on camera] Now, what’s the relationship here? Do you bargain with one company or another as a grower?

CAROLE MORISON: There’s no bargaining in the contracts. Contracts are designed by the company, brought out to the farm, and you either sign it and get chickens, or not sign it and not get chickens and ultimately lose the farm.

HEDRICK SMITH: So you’re saying that the processors dictate the terms. They run the show.

CAROLE MORISON: Yes, the processors dictate all of the terms,

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] The terms are very specific. The big chicken companies own the chickens, supply the feed, dictate the growing regimen, do all the processing. They own it all- except the chicken waste.

CAROLE MORISON: Well, anybody else who owns an animal is responsible for their waste. If the company owns the animal, why are they not responsible for their waste? I’ve never understood that. I have horses. I have a dog that’s outside. I’m responsible for their mess. Now, chickens are owned by these companies, like Perdue and Tyson. How is it they’re not responsible for it?

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] Help me understand one thing. How do you wind up by owning the chickens, owning the feed, and not owning, in the sense of legal responsibility, the manure?

JIM PERDUE: The manure is considered a resource, actually. The producers want the litter. They want the chicken litter. It’s not a matter of who owns or doesn’t own it, it’s a matter of what use is being made from it.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] As factory farming has grown, the volume of excess manure has mushroomed, and there’s been an increasing push to regulate farm pollution. But American agriculture has fought off pollution controls for three decades.

TOM HORTON: The whole agricultural community has remained maybe the last big or the biggest unregulated- largely unregulated area of water pollution. And it’s why EPA tells you across the country agriculture’s responsible for 60 percent or something like that of our water quality problems.

[http://www.pbs.org: More on the agricultural industry]

J. CHARLES FOX: We are talking the equivalent of medium-size cities in terms of the waste that is generated that is virtually untreated, going into the Chesapeake Bay and-

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] So cities have their waste treated, go through water treatment plants. Farming, agriculture, these concentrated animal raising operations, they’re not treated the same way.

J. CHARLES FOX: That is absolutely correct.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] The Delmarva poultry industry on the bay’s Eastern Shore doesn’t see it that way. It contends that there’s a fundamental difference between industrial pollution, or urban sewage, and agricultural waste. Industry spokesman Bill Satterfield,

[on camera] Shouldn’t the poultry farms be subject to the same kind of limitations as sewage treatment plants or industrial plants?

BILL SATTERFIELD, Delmarva Poultry Industry: A small industrial site that has to have a permit knows the source of what goes into that pipe. With non-point source pollution, there are various ways that nutrients can get into the groundwater and maybe flow through that pipe. Farm fields-

HEDRICK SMITH: I’m not talking about fields. I’m talking about growers and sheds where- I mean, I’ve literally stood in front of farms and I’ve literally looked at chicken houses, and I’ve seen pipes coming into the drainage ditches coming from ditches between the chicken houses. The source visibly is quite clear.

BILL SATTERFIELD: To know where those nutrients came in would require an investigation. And if the pipe passed under a chicken house and started over here in a field, who’s to say what entered that pipe on that end? Who’s to say whether the nutrients, if there are any, came from chickens or fox or deer or birds or something else?

HEDRICK SMITH: Russell Long, famous senator from Louisiana, used to say when people gave an answer like that, “It’s not you, it’s not me, it’s that guy behind the tree.” It seems to me as though every time we get to this, even though the evidence is pointing to most highest concentrations right near agriculture poultry operations, you’re saying, “Well, it could be the foxes or the geese.”

BILL SATTERFIELD: If there were proof positive that those nutrients are from chickens, then we can accelerate our programs and do a better job. But we can’t solve all the river’s problems with all the people, all the growth, all the other animals on the back of the chicken and the poultry farmers.

CAROLE MORISON: I’ll be the first one to say I did it. I’ve said this before. We’re all part of it. And yes, I think agriculture is a big contributor to the pollution, to the run-off into the Chesapeake Bay. The industry knows it. And what I am tired of is everyone wasting all their time and energy in saying, “I didn’t do it.” I did it! Why can’t they admit it? I mean, you know, let’s all say, “OK, we’re a part of it. Now let’s find an answer.”

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] But finding an answer has been politically impossible. In the late 1990s, a bill went before the Maryland legislature to require mandatory nutrient management by farmers to curb run-off from chicken manure. Big chicken didn’t like that idea at all.

JIM PERDUE: I think the survival of poultry industry is at stake on the Eastern Shore-

HEDRICK SMITH: The poultry industry, among the most financially powerful lobbies in Maryland, pushed for a looser alternative.

HOWARD ERNST, Bay Historian: The alternative was to have voluntary goals. It was going to be cooperative. It was going to have no regulatory teeth, and it was going to be overseen by the Maryland Department of Agriculture, a non-regulatory agency, rather than the Maryland Department of Environment.

FARMER: The farming industry can’t live with mandatory nutrient regulations. We’ve got to keep it voluntary.

HEDRICK SMITH: And the industry bill won. And since then, the industry has been successful in blocking or tying up subsequent efforts to regulate their waste.

[on camera] You sat in the Maryland legislature for 12 years. During that period, did you see the big chicken companies steadily resist regulation on manure run-off?

LEON BILLINGS, Maryland Legislator, 1991-’03: Absolutely. Big chicken companies were a presence. Jim Perdue, the son of Frank Perdue, was a constant presence, whether he was sitting in my chairman’s office or holding a reception in the evening or whatever. The chicken lobby was well represented. They hired the top guns in the lobbying community in Annapolis and they made every effort to prevent us from enacting tough regulations on agriculture.

HEDRICK SMITH: Some people have said to us that you’d clean up the whole situation much faster if the integrators, the poultry processors, were responsible. You got to clean it up and you all are responsible.

JIM PERDUE: Well, we can only do what we can do. The farmer certainly is, you know, his own businessman out there on the farm. And I think it works better if it’s a cooperative effort.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] So Perdue pioneered a process to recycle part of the chicken growers’ excess manure, to ship it across the country. And Perdue launched a voluntary program to teach its growers better manure management.

[on camera] And the programs that we’re looking at are an alternative to more regulation, I guess.

JIM PERDUE: More regulation and enforcement, which nobody likes. I mean, nobody likes, you know, somebody coming onto your farm, you know, without any warning, and those kinds of things.

[http://www.pbs.org: Read the interview]

J. CHARLES FOX, EPA Asst. Administrator, 1998-’01: There’s no question that the influence of the agricultural farm lobby in general has had a very successful role in limiting the amount of pollution control regulations that we see in the Chesapeake Bay watershed or nationwide.

ROBERT F. KENNEDY, Jr.: You know, corporations are externalizing machines. They’re constantly devising ways to get somebody else to pay their costs of production. And you know, if you’re in a polluting industry, the most obvious way to do that is to shift your clean-up costs to the public, make yourself a billionaire by poisoning the rest of us.

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] Are you saying the market’s distorted?

ROBERT F. KENNEDY, Jr.: You show me a polluter, I’ll show you a subsidy.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] Chicken farmers bristled when the Obama EPA started demanding pollution discharge permits this spring. The industry claims it’s already doing enough.

BILL SATTERFIELD: The poultry industry is doing more every year. We’re seeing more best management practices on farms. Our program to put trees on poultry farms to uptake the nutrients is a very progressive thing. There are more and more programs offered to help farmers put in manure storage buildings. And as the science says we can do more without putting our people out of business, I’m sure we will do more.

HEDRICK SMITH: But environmentalists like Rick Dove remain skeptical.

RICK DOVE: Now, this industry says they’re doing better, and you know, I can’t say if that’s true or false. But I can tell you that what I’m seeing here on the ground right now is absolutely terrible. So if it was worse before, then I can understand why the bay is in such bad trouble.

HEDRICK SMITH: While the bay is beseiged by run-off from the big chicken and cattle farms along its rivers, I learned about a whole new kind of pollution as I traveled up the Potomac as it winds its way past Washington up towards the hill country of West Virginia.

Up here, near the headwaters of the Potomac, I heard about the big new pollution threat not even known when the Clean Water Act was passed. Six years ago, marine biologists became alarmed at reports of massive fish kills on the rivers in this region. Every year, smallmouth bass were being decimated by some mysterious problem. Spring and fall, hundreds of fish would be found floating in the water belly-up.

I caught up with Vicki Blazer, a fish pathologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, who was trying to figure out why the fish were dying.

[on camera] What have you got here?

VICKI BLAZER, U.S. Geological Survey: So here we have this large discolored area in the liver, and then you see all these little white spots. Here’s another totally discolored area.

HEDRICK SMITH: And that’s a signal of some bigger problem.

VICKI BLAZER: Yes, when we see a really high prevalence in a population, that indicates there’s some problem going on in that water.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] And when Blazer dug deeper, she found a surprise.

VICKI BLAZER: One of the major and most interesting findings was intersex in the male bass. When we look at the male gonads, or testes, what we find is immature eggs within the male testes.

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] So you got a sort of feminization of male fish. Is that a big, alarming finding in marine biology, aquatic biology?

VICKI BLAZER: Yes, and that has certainly attracted a lot of concern and attention.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] Scientific studies have linked abnormal mutations in marine creatures, like intersex, to exposure to chemical compounds that mimic or imitate natural hormones in the body. These chemicals are called endocrine disrupters.

ROBERT LAWRENCE, M.D., Johns Hopkins School of Public Health: Endocrine disruptors are very, very potent chemicals at infinitesimally small quantification. I mean, you’re talking about parts per million or parts per billion. They interrupt the normal way in which the body controls everything from growth and development to thyroid function to reproductive function to estrogen levels, testosterone levels. So they’re very, very important, and they are of deep concern because there are so many of them now.

HEDRICK SMITH: There are thousands of these worrisome chemicals that have gotten into the environment, and one reason is that they’re part of everything we do.

Dr. ROBERT LAWRENCE: The list of things that bring these organic pollutants into our bodies is a long list, and it ranges from home care products – soaps, toothpaste, cleaning agents in the household – to things we put on our lawns, the things that we use all the time- the plastic industry, the rubber industry, lubricants, fuels, the highways.

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] When you see scientists like Vicky Blazer cutting open fish, finding intersex in the male fish, seeing high levels of fish kills, seeing immune systems disrupted, seeing other damage to the fish, is that a warning to you, potentially, about human health?

Dr. ROBERT LAWRENCE: Oh, absolutely. The warning- not just from the smallmouth bass in the Potomac but from amphibians all across the country. You have frogs with six legs, hermaphroditic frogs, male frogs with ovaries, female frogs with male genitalia. These are the canaries, the modern canary in the mine that we haven’t been paying enough attention to.

[http://www.pbs.org: More on endocrine disruptors]

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] So many new chemicals have emerged lately that scientists and regulators are playing catch-up to industry, trying to spot which chemicals they think pose new danger in our water.

VICKI BLAZER: EPA does not regulate any of these things yet. And in many cases, there isn’t even the methods to measure them in the amounts that they actually have a biological effect.

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] So science and the regulators are behind the curve dealing with what industry and society is producing or wants.

VICKI BLAZER: Correct.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] Playing catch-up in regulating these new chemicals may be a problem for more than just these fish.

VICKI BLAZER: The endocrine system of fish is very similar to the endocrine system of humans. Fish have thyroid glands. They have the functional equivalent of adrenal glands. They pretty much have all the same hormone systems as humans, which, again, is why we use them as sort of indicator species.

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] So if fish are having intersex, or lesions, that’s kind of spooky.

VICKI BLAZER: It is. You know, we can’t help but make that jump to ask the question, “How are these things influencing people?”

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] To get a handle on that question, I headed downriver. Just above Washington, I found another USGS team sampling water from the Potomac, part of a nationwide survey checking for 300 emerging contaminants in our drinking water.

They were looking for well-known pollutants, like pesticides, and for newly detected contaminants found in pharmaceuticals, body lotions, soaps and deodorants. In all, they found 85 compounds on their watch list.

JUDY DENVER, U.S. Geological Survey: Many of them are chemicals we’re just now starting to be able to even analyze for in water, but the treatment isn’t intended to remove those products.

HEDRICK SMITH: What makes this a matter of concern is that this is the intake for the Washington Aqueduct, where one million people in the D.C. area get their drinking water. Few of us may realize it, but people downstream use the wastewater from people upstream. The Potomac, like other rivers, serves as both the place where we dump our wastewater and the place where we get our drinking water. It’s one big, continuous recycling operation from the toilet or the shower to the tap.

THOMAS JACOBUS, Gen. Mgr., Washington Aqueduct: The river flows down, a community takes water out of the river, puts it back through a wastewater plant a few miles down- out, back, out, back. And with proper regulation and proper processes at the wastewater plant and proper processes at the drinking water plant, it works very well. So we sort of continuously recycle this.

HEDRICK SMITH: The recycling process works well for known contaminants, but what about the new chemicals for which the EPA has not yet set safety standards?

[on camera] How tough is the challenge just to keep up with all that, new sources of pollutants?

THOMAS JACOBUS: As new elements come in – synthetics, herbicides, pesticides, pharmaceuticals – as those things enter the water stream in concentrations because of more advanced development, more human activity, more animal activity, more commercial activity, those things as they get in the river make it harder for us to do our job. There’s no question about that.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] Not just harder but actually impossible to stop all the new contaminants, according to the USGS findings, because the old filters weren’t designed to catch the new threats.

JUDY DENVER: We sampled the finished water at the Washington Aqueduct and we found about two thirds of the compounds we detected were still detected in finished water.

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] So you’re saying that roughly two thirds of these emerging contaminants that you found in the river water at the intakes for the Washington Aqueduct came all the way through-

JUDY DENVER: Yes.

HEDRICK SMITH: -the filtering system and were in-

JUDY DENVER: Right.

HEDRICK SMITH: -the drinking water, the tap water in the District.

JUDY DENVER: And that’s what we saw at all the studies that were done.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] Denver’s findings mirrored what USGS has found all across the country. Everywhere, they saw lots of new contaminants in America’s drinking water, even if at low doses.

[on camera] Were you surprised by the findings of this USGS study, or did you- did that fit what you thought was probably going on?

Dr. ROBERT LAWRENCE: I was surprised by the number of different compounds that were detectable. I knew we were swimming in a sea of chemical soup, but I didn’t realize the soup was quite as concentrated as it is.

HEDRICK SMITH: You talk about a soup. Some people have used the term “toxic cocktail.” Is there a danger that if a level of a particular compound were acceptable and another one were acceptable, that you start to put a bunch of them together and then that’s no longer a safe level?

Dr. ROBERT LAWRENCE: You put your finger on one of the real concerns about toxicology. It may be safe to have a little bit of compound A or a little bit of compound B, but when the two of them are together, there’s synergism and they become really deadly.

HEDRICK SMITH: If you were living in Washington, D.C., would you drink water coming out of the Potomac?

VICKI BLAZER: Probably not.

HEDRICK SMITH: Because?

VICKI BLAZER: Because we really don’t know what all is in there.

THOMAS JACOBUS: Today I drink the water with great confidence because our water meets the regulations. But of course, the question is, “Do the regulations match the threat?”

HEDRICK SMITH: Were there endocrine disruptors, chemical compounds in the Washington Aqueduct intake water that were of concern to you in terms of their potential impact on human health?

LINDA BIRNBAUM, Dir., Natl. Inst. of Environmental Health Sciences: Are there chemicals of concern? Yes. I think at this point, the levels are very, very low, so I don’t have a great deal of concern that something needs to be done imminently. But it would certainly be nice to reduce what’s getting into the water. We can show that people with higher levels of some of these chemicals may have a higher incidence of a certain kind of effect than people with lower levels of these chemicals.

HEDRICK SMITH: Like what kind of effect?

LINDA BIRNBAUM: There are associations with what’s called male testicular disgenesis syndrome. That’s a big term, but it means-

HEDRICK SMITH: Lower sperm count?

LINDA BIRNBAUM: Lower sperm count.

HEDRICK SMITH: Are we facing a long-term, slow-motion risk that we don’t recognize because it’s not readily apparent?

Dr. ROBERT LAWRENCE: We are. There are five million people being exposed to endocrine disruptors just in the mid-Atlantic region, and yet we don’t know precisely how many of them are going to develop premature breast cancer, are going to have problems with reproduction, going to have all kinds of congenital anomalies of the male genitalia, things that are happening. We know they’re happening. But they’re happening at a broad low level so that they don’t raise the alarm in the general public.

HEDRICK SMITH: Do you know what the safe levels are?

LINDA BIRNBAUM: In most cases, we don’t know what the safe levels are. And some of the new science is suggesting that levels that we used to think were safe may, in fact, not be safe.

HEDRICK SMITH: For humans.

LINDA BIRNBAUM: For humans. So we’re finding in certain cases that much lower levels than we previously thought were a problem may, in fact, have the potential to harm at least some segment of the population.

HEDRICK SMITH: Do we have an adequate system of regulation, or should we be regulating on a different standard?

LINDA BIRNBAUM: I’m not a regulator, I’m a researcher. But in my personal opinion, I would like to know that a chemical is unlikely to cause harm before we expose our population to it.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] It’s our failure to control toxic chemicals before they cause trouble in the environment that haunts our waters all across the nation, places like Puget Sound, which I’ve come to know well in recent years. The sound, lying off the coast of Seattle, is a place that I’ve come to cherish as a phenomenal resource, a gorgeous natural playground, gateway to the Pacific, and historically a treasure house of fish and wildlife. But today, the sound is in peril.

KATHY FLETCHER, People for Puget Sound: I would put Puget Sound in the intensive care unit. The situation is critical. We’ve known for decades that Puget Sound had serious issues, but we’re at a point now where the species that are almost extinct are telling us we’ve got some real bottom line problems here.

HEDRICK SMITH: Take these regional icons, the killer whales, or orcas. They’re a major tourist attraction, but increasingly, Puget Sound orcas are being closely studied by scientists as a barometer of the health of the entire sound. To see what scientists are learning, i headed out with Brad Hanson, a team leader with NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

BRAD HANSON, NOAA Wildlife Biologist: Over there! Over there!

HEDRICK SMITH: Hanson and his colleagues have been studying the orca population for several years.

[on camera] Why study these whales?

BRAD HANSON: They’re the top predator in the food chain, so they’re essentially accumulating all the contaminants. They’re the last stop in the food chain.

HEDRICK SMITH: So they’re a laboratory, in a way.

BRAD HANSON: Yeah.

HEDRICK SMITH: A laboratory that tells us what’s going on in the whole ecosystem.

BRAD HANSON: Yes.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] The orca story is troubling. In one year, seven local orcas died. Their population is now down to 86, so low that in 2005, NOAA listed Puget Sound orcas as an endangered species. To figure out why the orca population is in decline, Hanson’s team goes out after biological samples.

[on camera] You get up pretty close to these whales in order to take samples.

BRAD HANSON: We get to about four or five meters.

HEDRICK SMITH: Four or five meters. So that’s pretty close. OK, so let’s see how it works.

BRAD HANSON: OK.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] they shoot darts into the orcas and extract small samples of blubber. That blubber is sent to the lab to be tested for a slew of contaminants, especially telltale toxins like PCBs. The lab results have been alarming.

PETER ROSS, Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans, Canada: Our research over the last 10 to 13 years has been able to demonstrate that these killer whales are the most PCB-contaminated marine mammals in the world. So we’re very, very concerned about what that might mean to their health.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] PCBs are cancer-causing chemicals so toxic that Congress banned them three decades ago. But they keep showing up.

PETER ROSS: PCBs are probably the number one persistent contaminant of concern anywhere in the northern hemisphere. They bioaccumulate in food webs.

HEDRICK SMITH: You mean they build up.

PETER ROSS: They build up in food webs and in organisms. We have trouble getting rid of them. We have a lot of trouble getting them out of our system. When I say “we,” I mean humans, rats, killer whales, harbor seals, doesn’t really matter.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] Increasingly, scientists worry that PCBs are a problem not just for orca whales.

BRAD HANSON, NOAA Wildlife Biologist: Well, we need to pay attention to what’s going on to these guys because if we don’t, we’re going to have the same problems coming back and affecting us. These animals are eating wild fish we want to eat. Wild fish is good for us, too. But if there’s contaminants in it, it’s going to have an adverse impact on us. That’s the thing. That’s why these animals are important sentinel species not just for the ecosystem in general, but also for humans.

HEDRICK SMITH: At the Center for Whale Research, director Ken Balcomb has been keeping records for three decades on the whales that make Puget Sound their regular home.

KEN BALCOMB, Center for Whale Research: Fewer whales are making it to maturity. The population is declining. We are seeing- probably the next 20 years, we’ll be witnessing the departure of this population.

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] You think they’re gone, they’re going to die out.

KEN BALCOMB: I’ve already told our government folks that we can go through this for about 20 more years if we don’t provide a remedy, and we will see the end of this population.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] Balcomb and his staff know these whales so well by sight that they can track them from birth to death.

[on camera] So what’s this? What are these charts?

KEN BALCOMB: These are the family trees of all the whales we’ve been studying for the last 32 years.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] The tombstone markers, Balcomb told me, underscore a worrisome trend among the youngest, most vulnerable, orcas.

[on camera] These older whales up here, they died. That’s kind of normal. But you get all these, the young ones dying. Is that a bad sign?

KEN BALCOMB: Yes, that’s the disturbing part of the mortality pattern we’re seeing now is that young whales are dying way before they even mature.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] He’s alarmed at the high levels of PCBs that Hanson’s team found in younger whales which absorbed PCBs from their mother’s milk.

[on camera] Are there enough parallels between the way the human body works, the chemistry and biology of the human body, and the whales so we can actually take lessons from them?

KEN BALCOMB: Yes. We can take lessons from not only the whales but the seals and the fish. And it’s been demonstrated in the health statistics in especially Arctic environments, cold environments where there’s a high-fat diet, and the children of these high Arctic people are suffering these same problems- immune deficiencies, reproductive problems, nervous disorders- are affecting humans as well as the other mammals.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] At NOAA testing labs like this one, scientists have established that king salmon are more heavily contaminated with PCBs than salmon in other Pacific coastal waters

PETER ROSS: Everything we see points to Puget Sound being a hot spot for PCBs and a persistent problem. We’ve seen contamination of animals. We’ve seen no improvement in the levels of PCBs in the last 20-odd years, despite regulations implemented in the l970s. And that to me indicates there are continuous inputs from land-based sources, from the sediments, and delivering them right into that food web.

HEDRICK SMITH: One big reason PCBs are a persistent problem is that it takes so long to clean up places like the Duwamish River, Seattle’s industrial corridor. Some of Seattle’s heaviest industry settled here decades ago, and today it’s the region’s largest hot spot for PCBs.

B.J. CUMMINGS, Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition: My name is B.J. Cummings. I represent the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition.

HEDRICK SMITH: B.J. Cummings leads tours of the river. But this isn’t your typical tourist outing, it’s an environmental wake-up call.

B.J. CUMMINGS: The EPA did an investigation here on Duwamish River about 10 years ago and concluded that industrial history had left such legacy of toxic pollution that the river was declared a federal Superfund site in 2001.

HEDRICK SMITH: Superfund is one of EPA’s big sticks. It was the regulatory program created in 1980 to clean up America’s worst pollution problems.

B.J. CUMMINGS: Your typical Superfund site used to be factory, pipe, Superfund site-right at the bottom of your pipe. That’s not what we have here. We have what’s called a mega-site. We have a five, five-and-a-half-mile stretch of river, end to end, that’s being investigated for clean-up. This is one of the largest Superfund sites in the country. The river was listed as a Superfund site because of an accumulation, a legacy of toxic pollution that has built up in the mud at the bottom of the river.

PETER ROSS: There’s a direct link between contaminated sediments in certain areas and contamination of the food web above those sediments. In fact, one might even think of the PCBs riding an elevator up from the sediments up into plankton, up into little fish, big fish, harbor seals, killer whales, eagles, humans.

HEDRICK SMITH: The toxic build-up in the Duwamish river-bottom is the product of more than a half century of industrial development along the river. Boeing, for example, the area’s biggest corporation, had its main operations here during World War II.

BOEING PROMOTIONAL VIDEO: We are the builders. We are the builders of the B-17. With our hands a million strong, we built and drilled and-

HEDRICK SMITH: The success of Boeing mirrored the 20th century boom in the American economy, an era when industrial progress brought unprecedented expansion.

BOEING PROMOTIONAL VIDEO: Ours were the hands that built the queen, the B-17-

HEDRICK SMITH: But that progress also left behind an unprecedented amount of pollution, or what’s called legacy pollutants.

STEVE TOCHKO, Boeing Environmental Officer: The term “legacy pollutants” is when its historical practices what, what was acceptable in the ’40s and ’50s is we would find very objectionable today in the ’90s, in the ’80s and beyond. People did not know the damage that some of these materials caused at the time. They did not know the long-term effects of them that we do today.

HEDRICK SMITH: PCBs are a classic legacy pollutant found here at Boeing, a toxic chemical once widely used by industry, often as a high stress lubricant in power stations and also in building materials. Frequently, it takes a lot of detective work to find hidden PCBs.

[on camera] So Steve, you found a contamination problem in the flight line out here.

STEVE TOCHKO: Yeah, it’s this material that we see between the concrete panels. It’s called joint compound. Material that was installed in the late ’60s contained very high levels of PCBs. And you know, since we had made this discovery, you know, in the late ’90s, we have now removed about 50 miles of this throughout all.

HEDRICK SMITH: Fifty miles of this black tar-looking stuff.

STEVE TOCHKO: This material throughout all of the Boeing facilities here in the Northwest.

HEDRICK SMITH: Why was it so hard to find?

STEVE TOCHKO: Well, it wasn’t obvious to us. It was- you know, normally, when people talk about PCBs, you think about electrical equipment, you think about hydraulics. That’s where it normally PCBs are used. The fact that they were used in something that was right in front of us was, you know, difficult. It was really difficult that we- we overlooked it.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] Making sure that Boeing doesn’t overlook any of its legacy pollution is the job of Shawn Blocker, a former Marine who has been EPA’s point man on the clean-up at Boeing.

SHAWN BLOCKER, EPA Boeing Site Manager: OK, what I want to talk about today is based on some additional data we have that’s on the sediments outside the current boundaries of the clean-up for Boeing Plant 2.

The significance of the Boeing facility is the number of contaminants that originate from the facility. It has over 24 things in the ground water, 40-some-odd different things that are in the soil that are above clean-up levels. So it’s the biggest accumulation of contaminants in that area.

HEDRICK SMITH: From the get-go, Boeing and EPA have clashed over how to clean up those legacy pollutants, and the arguments have led to long delays.

[on camera] When were you first ready to go with a clean-up plan?

STEVE TOCHKO: We submitted a plan to EPA in 1999, when, you know, to dredge- we call it an interim measure- to take what is adjacent to Boeing and excavate that material.

HEDRICK SMITH: Boeing says that over a decade ago, it was ready to clean up, and all that held it up was bureaucratic red tape from the EPA.

SHAWN BLOCKER: I would disagree with that. From my review of what they were going to do, I didn’t think they had fully defined where all the bad stuff was. They didn’t know the totality of what the contamination was even in the ground water or soil.

HEDRICK SMITH: But you obviously had a higher threshold for “Let’s get to the bottom of how bad this pollution is” than Boeing did.

SHAWN BLOCKER: Boeing is doing what they’re asked to do. No more, no less.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] So time and again, Blocker pressed Boeing to do more- more work and more tests. By now, Boeing has spent $80 million on testing and interim clean-ups.

STEVE TOCHKO: There’s over 500 sampling locations at this facility that have been drilled over time, you know?

HEDRICK SMITH: If you came here 10 years ago, how many would there have been.

STEVE TOCHKO: Fifty.

HEDRICK SMITH: So hundreds more have been drilled since because of this back and forth with the EPA.

STEVE TOCHKO: That’s correct, yeah.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] Not only has Boeing been feuding with the EPA, but it’s been locked in a fierce battle with with the city of Seattle, which used to operate a steam plant next door to Boeing Field.

Typical of Superfund sites, these two powerful neighbors have been wrangling over who’s responsible for PCBs flowing through this ditch, or flume, when it rains. The flume runs from the now defunct steam plant through boeing’s territory to the river. Boeing says it’s the city’s PCBs.

[on camera] So was this just for City Lights steam plant, or did Boeing and others put storm drains into this and use it?

STEVE TOCHKO: Pretty much just for cooling water from steam plant.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] The city flat-out disagrees, and it has taken Boeing to court.

MARTIN BAKER, Seattle Public Utilities: PCBs are coming by connections of other people to our ditch. They come through drainage lines. They come from other properties, most specifically Boeing’s property.

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] So Boeing was attaching its drainage pipes to your flume, sending some of its dirty stuff down your flume to the river.

MARTIN BAKER: There are over 20 lines attached to our ditch that came from the Boeing property.

HEDRICK SMITH: Twenty lines? So it’s a protracted argument between you and Boeing over who actually put the dirty contaminants in that flume.

MARTIN BAKER: It’s a continuing argument.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] And that argument is holding up the big cleanup on the Duwamish River. Jay Manning, who heads Washington’s Department of Ecology, which helps EPA supervise the clean-up, showed me the cost of this continued delay to Puget Sound.

JAY MANNING, Director, Wash. Dept. of Ecology: We’re looking at four very large outfalls of drainage pipes that carry stormwater from more than 30 square miles of this area. You can see the one there to the right.

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] So this is an industrial dumping ground, in effect.

JAY MANNING: This stormwater drains a very large industrial area.

HEDRICK SMITH: Are you all still finding PCBs and other contaminants in that water?

JAY MANNING: Unfortunately, the stormwater coming out of those drain pipes, we’re still detecting PCBs.

This is going to cost millions to clean up, maybe tens of millions, and owning 90 percent of that liability is not a place you want to be. So these folks, who are not stupid, are busy trying to prove that it’s somebody other than them that is the source.

HEDRICK SMITH: Pointing the finger at everybody else.

JAY MANNING: That’s right. They’re trying to prove, probably not that they have no liability, because that’s pretty hard to do, but proving that they have very little compared to their neighbor. That’s what it’s about, and it’s about money.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] Ultimately, the issues of clean-up – time and money – are tied to a larger question for all of us. That is, how clean do we expect our waterways to be?

Here on the Duwamish, the state has posted warnings not to eat local fish and shellfish because of pollution, and so the fight now is over whether the river can be cleaned up enough to let the locals fish the river once again without risk.

SHAWN BLOCKER, EPA Boeing Site Manager: And what we determined was that the most sensitive population we had out there were our Native Americans that eat the fish out of the Duwamish.

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] And they eat a lot more fish than most of us.

SHAWN BLOCKER: They do.

HEDRICK SMITH: And so that was the standard you wanted to set, clean it up so the tribes can eat the fish safely without getting poisoned from PCBs.

SHAWN BLOCKER: Yes.

HEDRICK SMITH: And Boeing objected to that?

SHAWN BLOCKER: Basically, they don’t feel that that stretch of the river can ever be returned to where you could harvest these kind of fish and shellfish. We disagree with that.

STEVE TOCHKO, Boeing Environmental Officer: So I think people need to understand is that there are going to be certain uses of the Duwamish River that aren’t going to be possible in the future. I’ll give you an example. I don’t think people are going to be able to subsistence fish out of the species that are in the Duwamish. I think we have to set reasonable expectations for clean-up in industrial areas. I don’t think that you can say it’s going back to zero.

HEDRICK SMITH: Where do you come down on that? [voice-over] Do we need to get rivers back to where people can fish and safely eat the fish without fear to their health?

Gov. CHRIS GREGOIRE (D), Washington: That is the goal. That has to be the goal because every one of those rivers and streams are going into Puget Sound. So it’s not as though it’s that river or that stream alone, it’s about the whole ecosystem.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] Just across the river from Boeing, the threat of legacy pollution and the question of how clean is clean became personal right here in South Park, where in 2004, the community was rocked by news that some of its streets and people’s yards were contaminated with PCBs.

B.J. CUMMINGS, Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition: People in South Park, particularly people with families, with small children, got incredibly nervous- I mean, out and out scared about what this might mean. We- you know, I pushed my kid’s stroller down that street every day. I go down there and I fish. My dog runs along that waterfront. What does this mean for me? What does this mean for my health?

RESIDENT: I mean, you’re trying to do the best for your kids, and all of a sudden, something like this comes out.

RESIDENT: It is so scary, what you said-

NEWSCASTER: PCBs, cancer-causing microbes banned in the ’70s but now taking an emotional toll on the residents of South Park today.

HEDRICK SMITH: The city of Seattle realized it had a crisis and moved quickly to pave the contaminated streets, clean up the polluted yards, and tell people how to take safety precautions. Suddenly, South Park, a largely immigrant working-class neighborhood surrounded by industry, was galvanized into action. Residents demanded a long promised clean-up of an abandoned industrial site called Malarkey Asphalt.

B.J. CUMMINGS: Malarkey Asphalt for years operated directly across the street from homes in South Park and was a really, really dirty business. For many years, there was open dumping on the riverbank. There was waste oil that was sprayed in the area to keep the dust in the unpaved streets down, and that contaminated the roads and yards, right in people’s gardens around the property.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] Years earlier, the old Malarkey site had been bought by the port of Seattle, which did a PCB cleanup on part of Malarkey’s property. But people in South Park suspected there were still many more, undiscovered PCB hotspots upland from the riverbank at Malarkey.

B.J. CUMMINGS: So the neighborhood said, “Go take some tests there. Tell us what’s there.” EPA and the port said, “Oh, no, no. We did the upland. It’s finished.” We eventually were able to succeed in getting just a few more tests. “Just assure us, show us it’s OK.”

HEDRICK SMITH: Doug Hotchkiss, the port’s manager for the Malarkey site, ran tests, and what he found surprised everyone.

[on camera] So what was the hottest spot you found? How high was it?

DOUG HOTCHKISS, Site Manager, Seattle Port: The hottest spot for PCBs was right in this area here, and it was about 9,000 parts per million.

HEDRICK SMITH: Nine thousand? And the federal limit is 25. I mean, so this was a really hot spot.

DOUG HOTCHKISS: Yeah. And luckily, it was under asphalt, but it was still something that even under asphalt, you couldn’t just leave there.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] So Hotchkiss drafted a plan to clean up Malarkey. But it backfired.

DOUG HOTCHKISS: We would be cleaning up to 25 parts per million, which was the cleanup level that EPA had accepted before.

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] And how did the community take that? How’d they react?

DOUG HOTCHKISS: They were- they were not happy with it. They didn’t find it acceptable.

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Mother Jones

Meet the Mom Who Helped Expose Flint’s Toxic Water Nightmare

 

LeeAnne Walters’ tap water tested at 27 times the EPA limit for lead. The city offered her a garden hose.

On a chilly evening last March in Flint, Michigan, LeeAnne Walters was getting ready for bed when she heard her daughter shriek from the bathroom of the family’s two-story clapboard house. She ran upstairs to find 18-year-old Kaylie standing in the shower, staring at a clump of long brown hair that had fallen from her head.

Walters, a 37-year-old mother of four, was alarmed but not surprised—the entire family was losing hair. There had been other strange maladies over the previous few months: The twins, three-year-old Gavin and Garrett, kept breaking out in rashes. Gavin had stopped growing. On several occasions, 14-year-old JD had suffered abdominal pains so severe that Walters took him to the hospital. At one point, all of LeeAnne’s own eyelashes fell out.

The family, as you have probably guessed, was suffering from the effects of lead in Flint’s water supply—contamination that will have long-term, irreversible neurological consequences on the city’s children. The exposure has quietly devastated Flint since April 2014, when, in an effort to cut costs, a state-appointed emergency manager switched the city’s water source from Detroit’s water system over to the Flint River.

Elected officials toasted the change with glasses of water, but some longtime residents were skeptical, particularly since Flint-based General Motors had once used the river as a dumping ground. “I thought it was one of those Onion articles,” said Rhonda Kelso, a 52-year-old Flint native. “We already knew the Flint River was toxic waste.”

The lead exposure persisted for 17 months, despite repeated complaints from residents of this majority-black city. It is in no small part thanks to Walters, a no-nonsense stay-at-home mom with a husband in the Navy, that the Flint situation is now a full-blown national scandal complete with a class-action lawsuit, a federal investigation, National Guard troops, and many people—including Bernie Sanders—calling for the resignation of Gov. Rick Snyder. “Without [Walters] we would be nowhere,” Mona Hanna-Attisha, the head of pediatrics at Flint’s Hurley Medical Center, told me. “She’s the crux of all of this.”

It was the summer of 2014 when Walters first realized something was very wrong: Each time she bathed the three-year-olds, they would break out in tiny red bumps. Sometimes, when Gavin had soaked in the tub for a while, scaly red skin would form across his chest at the water line. That November, after brown water started flowing from her taps, Walters decided it was time to stock up on bottled water.

The family developed a routine: For toothbrushing, a gallon of water was left by the bathroom sink. Crates of water for drinking and cooking crowded the kitchen. The adults and teenagers showered whenever possible at friends’ houses outside Flint; when they had to do it at home, they flushed out the taps first and limited showers to five minutes. Gavin and Garrett got weekly baths in bottled water and sponge baths with baby wipes on the other days. Slowly, the acute symptoms began to wane.

In January 2015, Flint officials sent out a notice declaring that the city’s water contained high levels of trihalomethanes, the byproduct of a disinfectant used to treat the water. Over time, these chemicals can cause liver, kidney, and nervous system problems. The advisory warned that sick and elderly people might be at an increased risk, but it said the water was otherwise safe to drink. “That was when I went to my first city council meeting,” Walters told me.

She wasn’t the only one. Flint residents showed up in droves, many complaining of stinky, tainted water coming out of their taps. They cited symptoms ranging from hair loss and rashes to memory and vision loss.

The problem was exacerbated by a lack of alternatives. Flint is one of America’s poorest cities, with 41 percent of its residents living in poverty. Many couldn’t afford bottled water or make the trek to obtain it—the city of 100,000 only has one major grocery store, on the far side of town. Kelso, a stroke survivor who lives with her 12-year-old daughter, relied on relatives to take her on water runs outside the city. “Sometimes there’s no water,” she said. “People who can buy water, they buy it up.”

Throughout most of 2015, the city and state maintained there was nothing to worry about. “I want to assure everyone that the city is sensitive to the public’s concerns,” Dayne Walling, then Flint’s mayor, declared at a press conference that January. “The city water is safe to drink. My family and I drink it and use it every day.” Walters and others, dubbing themselves “water warriors,” began staging regular protests outside City Hall.

In February, at Walters’ urging, the city sent an employee to test the water coming from her taps. A few days later, she received a voice mail from the water department, warning her to keep her kids away from the water. “You know when somebody calls and you can just hear the panic in their voice? It was that,” Walters recalled. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there’s no safe level of lead in drinking water. The maximum concentration allowed by law is 15 parts per billion. The Walters’ tap water measured nearly 400 ppb.

Walters began compulsively researching lead exposure. She learned, to her horror, that the element has a particularly dramatic effect on young children, with long-term symptoms that can include a lower IQ, shortened attention span, and increases in violence and antisocial behavior—not to mention effects on reproductive and other organs. Studies also have tied higher lead levels to significantly increased rates of crime and teen pregnancy. The neurological and behavioral effects, notes the World Health Organization, “are believed to be irreversible.”

Walters rushed to get her children tested, and the results confirmed her worst fears: All four kids had been exposed to lead, and Gavin, who already had immune system problems, had bona fide lead poisoning, which put him at far greater risk. “I was hysterical,” said Walters. “At first, it was self-blame. And then there’s that anger: How are they letting them do this?”

The city’s initial response was to hook up a garden hose to her neighbor’s house to provide water for her family—officials claimed that the problem probably had to do with the Walters’ own plumbing. Just days after Walters got the results of her children’s blood tests, Gov. Snyder’s office assured residents that “Flint’s water system is producing water that meets all state and federal standards.” (Representatives from the city and the state’s Department of Environmental Quality declined to comment for this story.)

Walters, who is trained as a medical assistant, began staying up late at night to go through reams of Flint water quality reports. She learned that Flint River water is more corrosive than Detroit tap water, and she wondered why Flint hadn’t applied standard chemicals—known as corrosion controls—to prevent the leaching of metal from its aging pipes into the water supply. This treatment is critical in a city such as Flint, where half of households are connected to a lead water line. She also didn’t understand why the city employee who tested her water ran the tap for several minutes before taking a sample. If something were building up in her pipes, wouldn’t flushing it out understate the results?

Frustrated with the city’s lackadaisical response, Walters called Miguel Del Toral, a manager at the EPA’s Midwest water division, last March. She explained that Flint didn’t appear to be using corrosion controls and that it was flushing pipes before conducting lead tests. She also emailed him water quality reports for the previous year. Del Toral was floored. “From a technical standpoint, there’s just no justification for the way Flint is conducting its tests,” he later told the American Civil Liberties Union. “Any credible scientist will tell you [the city’s] method is not the way to catch worst-case conditions.”

By contacting Del Toral, Walters unwittingly unleashed a chain of investigations. He introduced her to Marc Edwards, an expert in lead corrosion at Virginia Tech who instructed her to collect new samples from her house without pre-flushing the pipes. In those samples, Edwards found lead concentrations of 13,200 ppb—more than twice the level the EPA classifies as hazardous waste. “At that point, you do not just have smoke, you have a three-alarm fire and should respond immediately,” he told the Detroit News.

Edwards put together a team to conduct field tests in Flint and to seek data from the city and the state. Del Toral, meanwhile, relayed his concerns to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, setting off a slow, bureaucratic back-and-forth between the state and the EPA. News that that the Virginia Tech team and the EPA were looking into the matter alarmed Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician at Hurley Medical Center. She began researching the blood lead levels of Flint’s youngest children before and after the change of water supply, comparing them with children living elsewhere in Genesee County.

The results from both investigations came back last September. Edwards’ tests suggested that one in six Flint homes had lead water levels exceeding the EPA’s safety threshold. Hanna-Attisha found that the rate of children younger than five with elevated lead concentrations in their blood had doubled—and in some areas, tripled—following the switch to Flint River water. The effect, she told CNN, would be analogous to “drinking through lead-painted straws.”

The day after Hanna-Attisha’s findings came out, the city released a lead advisory. State officials remained skeptical, insisting that the results were incorrect and that Flint’s water met federal standards. But by mid-October, after weeks of deliberations and lots of bad press, Gov. Snyder ordered that Flint’s water supply be switched back to the Detroit system. “It recently has become clear that our drinking-water program staff made a mistake while working with the city of Flint,” said Dan Wyant, the state’s Environmental Quality Director, who resigned not long after. “Simply stated, staff employed a federal protocol they believed was appropriate, and it was not.”

Earlier this month, Snyder deployed National Guard troops to work alongside Red Cross volunteers, delivering bottled water, water filters, and lead-testing kits to Flint residents—who still can’t drink from the tap thanks to the corroded lead pipes. On Saturday, President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in Flint, entitling the city to federal disaster relief funds. Several residents, including Rhonda Kelso, have joined together in a class-action suit targeting city and state officials, including ex-Mayor Walling and Gov. Snyder. The US Attorney’s Office for Michigan’s Eastern District has launched its own investigation into the crisis.

The Walters no longer live in Flint—they moved to Virginia in October, partly in response to the contamination. But the water issue continues to consume LeeAnne, who regularly Skypes into meetings and fields calls with politicians and activists. She recently traveled to Washington, DC, to meet with EPA officials. Other Flint moms seek her out for advice; one telephoned after tests found that her 15-year-old daughter had the liver function of a 75-year-old. Walters won’t let her family drink Virginia tap water until she’s had it tested—or eat at a restaurant without reviewing its health reports in advance.

At five years old, Gavin weighs a mere 35 pounds to his twin brother’s 53.

The hardest thing, she says, is not knowing how the lead exposure will affect her kids in the long term. Gavin was the “party animal” of the twins, but lately he’s lost his appetite and sleeps more. At five, he weighs a mere 35 pounds to Garrett’s 53, and he mispronounces words that he could once handle. Garrett was recently diagnosed with ADHD. Both boys continue to ask, when handed a cup of water, whether it is “good water or bad water.”

When I asked Walters what she makes of all the national attention, she paused. “Everybody’s been asking, ‘How do you feel now that people are finally listening? Do you feel satisfied?'”

Then she was crying. “Every time I get a call from another mother whose child is sick,” she managed, “it doesn’t feel like a victory.”

Meet the mom who helped expose Flint’s toxic water nightmare

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