Cover image for Poisoned water / How the Citizens of Flint, Michigan, Fought for Their Lives and Warned the Nation
Poisoned water / How the Citizens of Flint, Michigan, Fought for Their Lives and Warned the Nation
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Based on original reporting by a Pulitzer Prize finalist and an industry veteran, the first book for young adults about the Flint water crisis
In 2014, Flint, Michigan, was a cash-strapped city that had been built up, then abandoned by General Motors. As part of a plan to save money, government officials decided that Flint would temporarily switch its water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River. Within months, many residents broke out in rashes. Then it got worse: children stopped growing. Some people were hospitalized with mysterious illnesses; others died. Citizens of Flint protested that the water was dangerous. Despite whatseemed so apparent from the murky, foul-smelling liquid pouring from the city's faucets, officials refused to listen. They treated the people of Flint as the problem, not the water, which was actually poisoning thousands.
Through interviews with residents and intensive research into legal records and news accounts, journalist Candy J. Cooper, assisted by writer-editor Marc Aronson, reveals the true story of Flint. Poisoned Water shows not just how the crisis unfolded in 2014, but also the history of racism and segregation that led up to it, the beliefs and attitudes that fueled it, and how the people of Flint fought-and are still fighting-for clean water and healthy lives.

Author Notes

Candy J. Cooper is a Pulitzer Prize finalist and winner of the Selden Ring Award for Investigative Reporting. She has been a staff writer for four newspapers, including the Detroit Free Press and the San Francisco Examiner . Her work has appeared in the New York Times , the Columbia Journalism Review , and the Chronicle of Higher Education , among other publications. She is also the author of several books for classroom use.

Marc Aronson earned his PhD in American history while beginning his career as an editor and author of books for children and teenagers. The first winner of the Robert L. Sibert medal from the American Library Association and the editor of the tenth winner, he is now a full-time faculty member at the Rutgers School of Communication and Information. He and his wife and sometimes coauthor, Marina Budhos, live in Maplewood, New Jersey.

Reviews 4

School Library Journal Review

Gr 6 Up--The water crisis of Flint, MI, came to international attention thanks to a cohort of well-placed whistleblowers, journalists, scientists, and concerned citizens. In 2011, a series of state-appointed Emergency Managers tasked with minimizing costs and maximizing revenues took control of debt-strapped Flint. In April of 2014, the city's water supply switched from the Detroit-treated waters of Lake Huron to the locally pumped, pollutant-laden Flint River. Astute citizens immediately noticed that something was wrong. The water reeked, wasn't transparent, and tasted awful. Those who consumed or even touched it experienced pains, rashes, hair loss, and other mysterious illnesses. Tests revealed it was loaded with toxins, bacteria, and extremely high quantities of lead. Though residents' collective health and pocketbooks suffered, they refused to bear injustice in silence. Thoroughly sourced and meticulously documented, this stomach-churning, blood-boiling, tear-jerking account synthesizes a city's herculean efforts to access safe, clean water. Readers receive a crash course in a century's worth of institutional malfeasance, then join a resident-constructed coalition that crosses every conceivable demographic line, organizing, researching, and protesting alongside them. Flint stands today, not due to proper oversight or intervention, but because the community stands together. Their story should ignite us all--especially the next generation of citizen activists. VERDICT This compulsively readable, must-buy narrative nonfiction serves as the ultimate antidote to civic complacence.--Steven Thompson, Bound Brook Memorial Public Library, NJ

Publisher's Weekly Review

Effectively chronicling the Flint water crisis, investigative reporter Cooper and author Aronson (Rising Water) unearth the complex underpinnings of this tragedy. Placing later events in context with a history of Flint's rise from a trading village established in 1819 to a booming GM factory town in the 1930s, the authors relate how Flint became one of the most segregated cities in America through redlined neighborhood maps and white flight to the suburbs. This, in addition to factory closures and the 1970s economic downturn, changed the city's nickname from Vehicle City to Murdertown, U.S.A. The narrative gains momentum when it turns to the crisis itself, beginning with the city's decision to save money by building a new water pipeline to Lake Huron and using water from the heavily polluted Flint River in the meantime; the action left residents, may of whom fell below the poverty level, with astronomical water bills and foul, poisonous water. Cooper and Aronson skillfully characterize the cast of local activists, government bureaucrats, doctors, and victims who fought to unearth and reveal the truth about the poisoned water and its effects, including the various women in the forefront, dubbed "water warriors." Powerful photographs and primary source material round out the narrative. This hard-hitting journalistic account both explains the water crisis and cautions about how future catastrophes might occur. Ages 10--up. (May)

Kirkus Review

Foregrounding the intergenerational activism of community members, this work takes a long view of the Flint water crisis as an indicator of U.S. environmental struggles. The authors begin by highlighting the wisdom of activist, pastor, and lifelong Flint resident Elder Sarah Bailey, who points to the importance of sharing Flint's story while expressing caution about the impact of outsiders coming to study and report on the water crisis. The context is set through an overview of Flint's long history, from its beginnings as a fur trading settlement following land dispossession of Ojibwa citizens to its racially segregated heyday as General Motors' "Vehicle City" up until the dwindling tax revenues of postwar deindustrialization and the organized abandonment of white flight left a heavy burden on the city. The book emphasizes that residents collectively and consistently levied demands against the significant harm caused by enforced austerity, legacies of socio-economic segregation, and environmental negligence long before the highly visible national coverage beginning in 2015. In-depth research and interviews with well-known leaders and ordinary citizens, including many young people, augmented by ample photographs, bring home the tragic outcomes for Flint residents of environmental injustice and the decay of public infrastructure. Readers will understand how this impact will continue to be felt disproportionately by people of color and the poor unless we transform how we govern society. A careful, conscious encapsulation of a consequential U.S. frontier for renewed environmental justice activism. (authors' note, credits, index) (Nonfiction. 12-18) Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

People in Flint, Michigan first noticed their tap water turning brown in 2014. This coincided with their state-appointed city manager's decision to save money by using water from the Flint River instead of more expensive water from Lake Huron. Thus began two years of worsening health issues: rashes, infections, and spikes in lead poisoning and Legionnaires' Disease, all compounded by continuing denials from local authorities. It was early 2016 before state and national emergencies were declared and donations of bottled water began to flow into the city. This is a story with heroes, from a mom-turned-investigator to an EPA whistle-blower to a pediatrician who finally caught the attention of the national media. And villains? So far the residents of Flint have seen denials, claims of ignorance, and over $30 million spent on various politicians' legal defenses. Accessible background text fills in Flint's history as a once-thriving city abandoned by General Motors, and poignant personal stories, many featuring teens, put faces on the crisis. This detailed offering, the first specifically intended for young audiences, has multiple curriculum applications (man-made disasters, ecology, racial discrimination, economics, biology, the roles of local and state government). It's also a modern-day horror story, one we can only hope will never be repeated.

Table of Contents

Andrea Ramsey
Prologuep. 1
1 Roots and Marginsp. 9
2 Pure, Natural, Mineralp. 21
3 "The Water Is Biting Them"p. 31
4 To the Domep. 47
5 Big Worries Herep. 57
6 Ten Thousand Childrenp. 67
7 A Good Guessp. 75
8 Water Out of Controlp. 83
9 Trust Fallp. 89
10 "The Big Red Flag"p. 97
11 A Whistle Blowsp. 109
12 Denialp. 115
13 Convergencep. 119
14 Blood Speaksp. 133
15 A Tipping Pointp. 141
16 A World Rockedp. 147
17 Surrenderp. 157
18 A Ceaseless Trailp. 165
19 "A Gaggle of Bottled Waters"p. 171
20 Blame without Endp. 179
21 "We Can Save Ourselves"p. 189
22 Coming Back Where?p. 197
23 Roaring Uphillp. 203
24 "My Destiny Is Dismal"p. 213
"But a Flint Holds Fire"p. 217
A Note from the Authorsp. 221
Acknowledgmentsp. 231
Credits and Contributorsp. 234
Indexp. 237