A real clean water act



Noelle Pisacano

Courtesy of SPJ Mid-Michigan Professional Chapter (Raymond Holt)


Curt Guyette, the investigative journalist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washinton (ACLU) of Michigan who exposed the Flint water crisis, visited the University on Tuesday, March, 28 at 6 p.m. to share his story through a documentary he produced and a speech he prepared. 

This entire problem began with the Michigan Emergency Manager Law, which is a receivership law allowing the state to take over financially troubled districts. Eventually, this promoted Governor Rick Snyder to decide to switch the main water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River. The governor and his staff were willing to falsify the sciences by putting the budget over the residents’ wellbeing, said Guyette. 

“There were two problems with the water,” Guyette said. “People can’t afford it, and it is nasty. That is how I started covering the issue.”  

After receiving an emergency grant from the National Science Foundation, Marc Edwards at Virginia Tech began a research study testing the water. Guyette then distributed the 300 sample kits to Flint residents to test the water. 

“You’re not going to find a more ethical person than Edwards,” Guyette said. “That guy is incredible, absolutely incredible.”

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, pediatrician and Director of the Pediatric Residency Program at the Hurley Medical Center in Michigan, found that the percentage of children with elevated levels of lead in their blood doubled  nine months after the switch or even tripled in certain parts of the city. from nine months before the switch. Once the government said Hanna-Attisha’s data didn’t comport with its findings, attention was finally directed towards the story. This was finally game over in regards to the government trying to cover up the water problem, said Guyette. 

Since the Flint River was named the city’s water supply, people have contracted Legionaire’s disease, pneumonia and lead poisoning and have been exposed to total trihalomethanes, a carcinogen. Additionally, infrastructure suffered significant damage–water supply was reduced by an estimated 12 years, due to the absence of corrosion control chemicals, said Guyette.

“These kids were damaged as a result of states actions,” Guyette said. “You need to do everything you can to mitigate that action.” 

Eventually, after many lawsuits, the citizens brought up a clean water act case, and the settlement agreement was finally approved on Tuesday, March 28 at 2 p.m. to replace Flint water lines. Media coverage was minimal at the beginning of the crisis, and the initial reporting led to this lawsuit and subsequent settlement. 

“It went from within six months of me calling people and emailing people trying to get them interested, to having a hard time keeping up with everything,” Guyette said. “Journalism and activism succeeded where a lawsuit failed initially.”