Nova (1974–…): Season 44, Episode 17 - Poisoned Water - full transcript

In this special report, NOVA investigates the water disaster in Flint and unravels a disturbing truth about the vulnerabilities of water systems across the country. Discover the delicate intricacies of water chemistry, the biology...

Are you wondering how healthy the food you are eating is? Check it -
- In Flint, Michigan...
- Here's to Flint.

...officials try to save money

by changing
the city's water source,

but instead
endanger public health.

We were so sick.

We were experiencing hair loss.

We realized
it wasn't just our home.

People are getting poisoned

because you're not treating
the water right.

The pipes carrying the water

are corroding,
leaching lead into the system,

and putting
thousands of children in danger.

Once a child has lead
in their blood,

there is not much
that you can do about it.

Even one swallow of that water

would cause
lead poisoning of a child.

One swallow.

How did this happen?

We were fighting
the very agencies

who were supposed
to enforce the law.

Can the people of Flint
use science to fight back?

- What do we want?
- Clean water!

Now, it's a massive job
to make Flint safe.

There's probably over

20,000 lead service lines
in the city.

In Flint and around
the country...

We've got millions
of those lead pipes out there.

Might be in front of your house.

"Poisoned Water."

Right now, on NOVA.

Major funding for NOVA is
provided by the following.

This is our moment,

so I think we need a countdown,
from three?

Three, two, one...

I hear it.

All right.

Here's to Flint.
Hear, hear.

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.

I remember the switch

because it was
my daughter's birthday.

It was April 25.

City and elected officials,
a lot of them were saying,

you know, "This is gonna
save us so much money,"

and "This is a good thing."

And we're like, oh, boy,
you know, holding our breath.

There was nothing wrong

with the city's
old water source, Lake Huron.

So why make the switch at all?

Mainly, to save money.

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,

tremendous decline in jobs.

Since the late 1950s,

GM closed seven major facilities
in the region.

Tens of thousands of
jobs were lost.

We have a couple special orders
this evening.

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.

An emergency manager can
come into a community,

take the powers
of a mayor and a city council

and make decisions.

We want to maintain access

to a clean,
sustainable water source.

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.

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."

My clothes
in the washing machine

are smelling like bleach,

smelling like rotten eggs.

We started to get rashes,

muscle aches and pains.

Where's the other piggy at?

LeeAnne Walters was
a stay-at-home mom

with three-year-old twin boys
and a teenaged daughter.

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'd never experienced
anything like that.

Am I hot?
You are hot.

These problems led Walters

to ask detailed questions about
how the water was being treated.

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.

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.

Now, you see the water
is very cloudy,

and 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 remove these particles

in treatment.

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.

We end up with a water
that's about like this.

So we actually remove
about 90 to 95%

of the solids in the water
just through that process.

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.

As the water trickles
through the sand,

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 come out
of the sand filters,

that water looks very clear,
very clean.

The water might look clean,

but coming
from an industrialized river,

it may still carry
invisible toxins.

There are chemical manufacturers

all up and down the river,

and some of that material
can get into the water.

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.

River waters are just
a big engineering challenge,

relative to a lake water source.

Rainwater, snow melt,

runoff 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.

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...

Now, back in Flint,
some folks are dealing

with a new problem.

...but the city is
issuing public health warnings.

...bacteria that prompted

a boil water advisory
since Friday.

Water needs to be boiled to kill
off any bacteria.

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.

Concerns over water quality
in Flint

are leading Genesee County's
biggest employer

to shut off their taps.

General Motors reports
that Flint River water.

Is corroding its engine parts.

The issue here is the levels
of chlorine in the water.

It creates
some sort of corrosion.

GM 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.

We had taken the boys in
for one of their checkups.

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 his skin would be so raw,
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.

LeeAnne Walters
isn't the only one

investigating Flint's water.

The city falls
under the jurisdiction

of the Environmental
Protection Agency Region 5.

The EPA makes regulations
to protect the environment,

including the water supply.

Miguel Del Toral,
a water regulation expert

for EPA, has been following
the events in Flint.

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.

A key component of federal
water regulation

is the EPA's
lead and copper rule,

which limits the amount
of lead and copper

allowed in drinking water before
utilities must take action.

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.

My first test came back
at 104 parts per billion.

104 parts per billion of lead.

The maximal allowed by EPA
is 15 parts per billion.

Later, LeeAnne Walters 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 EPA Region 5,

who puts her in touch
with 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.

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.

You nervous?

A little bit.
A little bit?

Dr. Kim Cecil is an investigator

for the Cincinnati lead study.

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 neuron
that's receiving the signal.

And typically,
calcium is in that gap.

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.

The average IQ of the
Cincinnati Lead Study is 86.

It should be 100

in a typically
developing population.

Lead can disrupt brain growth

and even lead to shrinkage
or volume loss in brain tissue.

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.

Lead can cause harm
wherever it ends up in the body.

And lead poisoning can even be
passed to the next generation.

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.

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...
Okay, it's not blocked.

...would play an important role

in the story of Flint's water.

Lead gets into drinking water

almost exclusively from pipes.

There are very few cases
where there's lead in water

leaving the treatment plant.

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 ten 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.

It used to be the law

in some cities that
that pipe had to be made

of 100% pure lead.

And so we've got millions
of those lead pipes

out there around the country.

Might be in front of your house.

And it's not just
the service lines

that can bring lead
into your home.

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.

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.

Inside the pipe, as the water
goes through, it reacts.

The chemical reactions
take place

with the plumbing material.

And this begins to build up
kind of a protective coating,

what we call a scale.

This protective scale
is crucial.

It becomes a barrier
that prevents lead

from leaching into the water.

As scientists at the EPA's

Office of Research
and Development reveal,

this protective scale can be
made of up to 90 percent lead.

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.

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
EPA'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?

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
that they were using

for an anti-corrosion.

An anxious Walters reaches out
to Miguel Del Toral.

And so I had called Miguel.

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-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."

On his own, Del Toral had
already contacted MDEQ,

the Michigan
environmental agency,

to see if Flint had implemented
corrosion control.

Early on, we received
an email from the DEQ

that basically indicated
that the system was...

had corrosion control in place.

After Walters' discovery,

Del Toral emailed MDEQ to ask
again about corrosion control.

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.

If you don't

add a 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.

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.

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.

With no corrosion control
in place,

the Flint water corrodes
and rusts the iron much faster.

And we'll also see the water

begin to become orange
and cloudy because of the rust.

The corrosive water

not only rusted
Flint's iron water mains,

but it also attacked the scale

on the lead lines
servicing individual homes.

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.

Over several months,
protests had been building.

Built this place
with my tax money!

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.

14 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
EPA 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.

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.

But the memo fails
to inspire the kind of action

Flint residents are looking for.

Anyone who is concerned
about lead

in the drinking water
in Flint can relax.

EPA Region 5 director
Susan Hedman

apologizes to Flint's mayor
for its release.

Then, the mayor of Flint

went on TV drinking the water,

telling everyone in Flint
the water was safe to drink.

Later, according to NPR,
a spokesperson

for the Michigan Department
of Environmental Quality, MDEQ,

will describe Del Toral
as a "rogue employee."

And according to
LeeAnne Walters,

another MDEQ official
discredits his report.

Liane Shekter Smith,

the head of drinking water
for MDEQ, told me that

Miguel had been handled,
that his report was flawed,

and there would be
no final report.

By now, Walters' son, Gavin,

has been diagnosed
with lead poisoning.

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?"

Edwards was already
working with Walters

to measure the level of lead
in her water.

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.

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, I mean,

my heart skipped
a couple of beats because

it-it was the worst lead
and water contamination

I'd seen in 25 years.

Virginia Tech researcher
Jeffrey Parks

evaluates the water samples
from the Walters' home.

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 sampled with 13,200 parts
per billion of lead.

5,000 is considered
hazardous waste,

so we're almost three times
the level of hazardous waste

in that one sample.

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.

I knew something like Flint
was inevitable,

based on ten years prior
experience in Washington D.C.

For the residents of the
nation's capital tonight,

there was a concern over
a potential danger at home.

From 2001 to 2010, they suffered

the worst lead contamination
event in modern U.S. history.

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.

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.

We want to know
what actually happened.

Congress was mad
because lead was high.

People were marching
in the streets.

They were out of their mind
with anger.

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 EPA.

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."

Betanzo began her research
but never completed it.

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.

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.

The claim was that kids
could drink

any amount of 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.

Edwards challenged
the CDC'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.

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.

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.

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 intervened.

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.

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.

Over a decade after
the D.C. crisis,

Siddhartha Roy,
a PhD student of Edwards,

knows how affected
he was by the ordeal.

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.

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

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 had actually 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.

We were mainly involved
in figuring out

just how bad the problem
was getting.

Edwards hopes a city-wide

of Flint's water will force
government agencies

to finally take action.

And for that his playbook
calls for willing bodies.

We needed a team of students
to immediately go to Flint

and start sampling the water.

So, the key to getting students

to do their job is
to feed them free pizza.

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.

He was going
to launch a volunteer effort

and he asked if people
were willing to volunteer.

So, we said yes.

It was us or nobody.

This was a war.

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.

What are you up to, 80?

- 85, yeah.
- Sort of 90 something.

Okay, well, only 200 more to go.

We wanted to make sure
every resident

gets how to actually sample,
uh, their homes.

After you have timed it
for 45 seconds,

at 45 seconds, fill this up.

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 the 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.

The people of Flint

really were desperate
for answers.

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.

I had to go in and pay
a $512 water bill

for water that is making
my family sick.

They had been protesting

this water quality and they
were not getting anywhere.

The city insisted
everything was fine.

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% of lead
and other metals.

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..."

" the next two months."

I've never felt
so helpless in my life.

Let's call this what it is.

It's a genocide.
It's not just a water crisis.

It's a genocide.

It's a racial crisis.

It's a genocide.

- It's a poverty crisis.
- That's right.

Water is a human right.

Fight, fight, fight!

We realized early on

that we had to be
investigative scientists.

Edwards has another rule
in his playbook.

Get hold of internal
government documents

to see what's happening
behind the scenes.

We knew what documents
to ask for.

We, and we alone, knew where
the bodies were gonna be buried.

Unknown to all of us,

Marc was filing Freedom
of Information Act requests

left and right.

On September 15, 2015,
Virginia Tech researchers

publicly present their findings.

Flint's water has dangerously
high levels of lead.

We estimate that the water
in about 5,000 Flint homes

is over standards set
by the World Health Organization

for lead in water.

This evidence shows that
Flint is not monitoring

according to the Lead and
Copper Rules given by the EPA.

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 DEQ.
That's right.

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.

But Michigan authorities

at MDEQ dispute
Virginia Tech's findings.

MDEQ says that
the VT research group

led by Marc Edwards,

they essentially can go to
any city and they'll find lead.

Uh, essentially, they pull
the lead rabbit out of the hat.

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?

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.

And so, when it came to Flint,
they used

every trick in the book.

They used precleaning of pipes
the night before sampling.

They told consumers to clean out
their lines for five minutes.

By including an instruction
for residents

to preflush 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.

On top of that, incredibly,

they had samples
from LeeAnne Walters' house.

All of those samples were thrown
into the garbage.

They said that LeeAnne's house

was not an approved
sampling site

and therefore,
they weren't gonna count

any of those samples.

And I am in shock again.

I am witnessing engineers

trying to artificially
reduce the actual numbers

by manipulating
where you sample.

But a week later,
new evidence emerges

that authorities cannot ignore.

It begins with water engineer
Elin Betanzo,

who'd been at the EPA
during the D.C. crisis.

By coincidence, she is now
working in southeast Michigan

and reading about the crisis
in Flint.

I had seen a news report
where there is a memo

written by Miguel Del Toral
from the EPA 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.

I was thinking,
"I know what's happening here.

What can I do?"

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.

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.

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.

Dr. Hanna-Attisha begins
a systematic study

of the amounts of lead
in children's blood.

How old are you?


You are doing real good.

So 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 state's machinery
began to dismiss me.

They began to dismiss
the research,

and that the state's numbers
didn't add up to my numbers.

They said it 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 EPA scientists
were dismissed.

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.

Do we know how many children

will actually have a long-term
effect from this exposure?

We do not.

What do we want?
Clean water!

When do we want it?

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 politicians are

sitting back playing politics.

And lead is not the only danger
in Flint's waters.

A deadly spike in something

called Legionnaires' disease.

During the crisis,

Flint suffers one of the largest
outbreaks in U.S. history

of Legionnaires' disease...

State health officials say

the number of deaths
from Legionnaires' disease...

...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.

To our knowledge,
what happened in Flint

is really the first example

of where lack of
corrosion control

can trigger a Legionnaires'
disease outbreak.

According to Amy Pruden

and Marc Edwards,
chlorine added to Flint's water

should have killed off

But without corrosion control,

Flint's water filled up
with rusty iron.

Chlorine reacted with the rust
and was used up.

And with no chlorine to stop it,

legionella thrived inside
Flint's water pipes.

90 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

that over 40% 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.

A rise in the number of children

with elevated blood lead levels

was devastating
for our community.

Crucial evidence from Freedom
of Information Act filings

by Marc Edwards,
the ACLU, and others

reveals the failure

of Michigan's water and health
officials to protect the public.

13 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.

Flint was a casualty
of arrogance,

absence of accountability,
shirking responsibility.

Charges include
tampering with evidence,

and willful neglect of duty.

Susan Hedman,
head of EPA Region 5,

resigns under criticism.

One of the emails
from the EPA said,

"Is Flint the kind of community
that we should go to bat for?"

And, you know, I just felt
sick to my stomach

to think that,
you know, my family,

my neighborhood,
my city somehow counts less?

Testimony you will give will be
the truth, the whole truth,

and nothing but the truth.

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.

Corrosion treatment
should've been required

by the Department of
Environmental Quality...

That's not how government's
supposed to work.

Uh, it's not how science
is supposed to work.

Mayor Dayne Walling...

Who drank the water on TV
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
to help the city.

But some estimate that
as much as $1.5 billion

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.

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.

16, 18.

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
water from a tap ever again.

My family will never, ever,
ever trust a water source again

just because we're told to.

I mean, the amount of water

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...?

Yeah, it was financial.

Gina Luster's father

is a water distribution

helping to replace pipes
in Flint.

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?

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.

This is gonna happen
over and over again.

We're seeing it here,
we're gonna 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,

you're gonna have
the same problems here.

It's going to take time.

There are, you know,
literally millions of pipes.

We don't know how many
lead pipes there are,

but it's many millions.

This is going to take decades
and decades to do.

The interim solution is

we need
stringent corrosion control

and very proactive monitoring.

Some of the same agencies

criticized during the crisis

are now supporting the work
to heal Flint.

I saw how hard
EPA and MDEQ worked

to help get Flint fixed since
January of 2016.

It's been amazing.

Today, Marc Edwards
and local authorities agree

that the water in Flint is safe
to drink with a filter.

I get emotional
when I think about the kids.

And, um... Uh, 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... and you just hope,
by the grace of God,

that the people are okay.

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 gonna be very difficult
to try to regain that trust

and may take a long time.

This investigation continues.

Learn how to hunt down
lead contamination,

explore its secret attacks
on the human body,

and hear dramatic details
of LeeAnne Walters' journeys

as citizen scientist.