Flint Water Activist Awarded Environmental Prize

By Wes Annac, Editor, Openhearted Rebel

The water crisis in Flint, Michigan is alarming to say the least. It’s scary to think that a city in a developed nation can be so deprived of clean water that it becomes a national crisis. It serves as a clear warning that we should be aware of our effect on the environment and the resources like water that are essential for our survival.

A lot of people think that in the future, we’ll fight wars over water instead of oil. The crisis in Flint and the water shortage in Cape Town, South Africa show that we should not exploit or take this life-sustaining resource for granted. At any time, it could disappear or become too polluted for us to use.

By causing the problem, trying to ignore it, and focusing on it only when pressure from the public became overwhelming, the city of Flint effectively poisoned its citizens. I’m not saying it’s a conspiracy, but at best, it’s extremely negligent.

One mother stepped up to raise awareness of how bad the situation in Flint had become. She was recently awarded a well-deserved environmental prize for her work.

NPR reports that LeeAnne Walters, a mother who was instrumental in uncovering the lead contamination in Flint’s water supply, has been selected as a winner of the 2018 Goldman Environmental Prize. This award “recognizes grassroots activists from around the world”. (1)

In 2014, NPR reports, Flint changed water sources “to save money”. Shortly thereafter, LeeAnne noticed her twins had developed a rash. Other health issues soon followed, including hair loss, and she began to think that the “brown water flowing out of her tap” was responsible. Showing the city her “discolored water”, LeeAnne implored them to do something. It would take them a few months to investigate her complaints. (1)

NPR shares a quote from the administrators of the Goldman Environmental Prize:

“Walters first informed the city of the water problem in late 2014, but it was not until February 2015 that the city sent someone to check on her complaints…

“Tests revealed that lead levels in her drinking water were at 104 parts per billion (ppb)—unprecedented levels for Flint, so high that a city is required to alert residents immediately, per federal law.” (1)

MSN reports that while the city assured residents LeeAnne’s was an “isolated case”, she started a campaign to raise awareness of the water pollution. Along with a professor from Virginia Tech, LeeAnne started testing samples of city water. They discovered “extremely high” levels of lead in the water, and they shared their findings with the public. (2)

The News Recorder reports that when collecting the samples, they created “a transparent and strong system” to make sure the tests were fair. LeeAnne reportedly worked on this for “over 100 hours per week” for three weeks. Along with her neighbors and the team from Virginia Tech, she tested over 800 water samples from Flint homes. (3)

The News Recorder shares a quote from the prize administrators, who state that LeeAnne and her team successfully proved that one in six homes had levels of lead in their water exceeding “the prescribed legal safety threshold”. LeeAnne believed the contamination resulted from the city changing its water supply and failing to treat the water to prevent corrosion in the pipes, thus contaminating the water with lead. (3)

In response to the campaign and the pressure to address the problem, NPR reports, Flint switched back to its previous water source from Detroit. As you might remember, the crisis prompted the Obama administration to declare a state of emergency in Flint. Never backing down, LeeAnne is still working on “water quality issues” in her city and others across the country. (1)

NPR shares a list from the Goldman Prize administrators of the other six winners along with their achievements.

  • FRANCIA MÁRQUEZ, Colombia: A formidable leader of the Afro-Colombian community, Francia Márquez pressured the Colombian government and organized the women of La Toma, in the Cauca region, to stop illegal gold mining on their ancestral land. (1)
  • CLAIRE NOUVIAN, France: A tireless defender of the oceans and marine life, Claire Nouvian led a focused, data-driven advocacy campaign against the destructive fishing practice of deep-sea bottom trawling. Her work yielded French support for a ban on the practice, securing an EU-wide ban. (1)
  • MAKOMA LEKALAKALA & LIZ MCDAID, South Africa: As grass-roots activists, Makoma Lekalakala and Liz McDaid built a broad coalition to stop South Africa’s massive nuclear deal with Russia. Their work resulted in a landmark legal victory against the secret $76 billion deal, protecting South Africa from lifetimes of nuclear waste. (1)
  • MANNY CALONZO, the Philippines: Manny Calonzo spearheaded an advocacy campaign that persuaded the Philippine government to enact a national ban on the production, use and sale of lead paint. His efforts have protected millions of Filipino kids from lead poisoning. (1)
  • KHANH NGUY THI, Vietnam: Khanh Nguy Thi used scientific research and engaged Vietnamese state agencies to advocate for sustainable long-term energy projections and reduction in coal power dependency in Vietnam. Her efforts helped eliminate 115 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions from Vietnam annually. (1)

Although LeeAnne Walters is fighting to bring attention to the problem in Flint and not to herself as an activist, it’s great when someone who works for a noble cause is recognized and rewarded for their effort. In a world where activism is often done in vain, it’s refreshing to see results and recognition for the people engaged in the struggle.

Sadly, the fight for clean water around the world is still in its infancy. Things might have to get a lot worse before they can get better, and we need these water protectors now more than ever. So, congrats to LeeAnne Walters. People like her remind us that we must fight for clean water while there’s still clean water to fight for.

Sources:

  1. Merrit Kennedy, “Flint Activist Wins Major Environmental Prize”, NPR.org, April 23, 2018 – https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/04/23/604915435/flint-activist-wins-major-environmental-prize
  2. Jacqueline Thomsen, “Activist who helped uncover Flint water crisis wins environmental prize”, MSN.com, Aprl 23, 2018 – https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/activist-who-helped-uncover-flint-water-crisis-wins-environmental-prize/ar-AAwf2OJ
  3. “Flint Activist leeanne Walters won Environmental Prize”, The News Recorder, April 24, 2018 – https://thenewsrecorder.com/news/science/flint-activist-leeanne-walters-won-major-environmental-prize-35765.html

About the author: 

I’m a twenty-something writer & blogger with an interest in spirituality, revolution, music and the transformative creative force known as love. I run Openhearted Rebel, a daily news blog dedicated to igniting a revolution of love by raising social and spiritual awareness.

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