investigative reporter for the ACLU of Michigan. His work focuses on emergency management and open government.
We speak with Curt Guyette of the ACLU of Michigan. He is an investigative reporter who was just named Michigan Journalist of the Year by the Michigan Press Association. He talks about the citizen-led effort to prove, despite assurances by state officials, the Flint water supply was contaminated with lead.
Watch more from the Democracy Now! special report "Thirsty for Democracy: The Poisoning of an American City"
AMY GOODMAN: We wanted to follow-up on what Councilman Mays was saying about the lead tests, so we want to speak with Curt Guyette of the ACLU. He’s actually an investigative reporter who has just won Michigan Journalist of the Year. We asked him about the work he do with professor Marc Edwards, a nationally recognized lead contamination expert at Virginia Tech.
CURT GUYETTE: I was sitting around one night, thinking, "How can we get to the truth? How can we get this beyond what was that point a 'he said, she said' kind of thing?" And I thought, "Oh, well, geez. Maybe we could do our own test," because I had some money in my grant to pay for experts to do research for us. And so, I called up Marc and said, "How much does it cost for each test?" He said, "Oh, 70 bucks." "How much does it cost—or, how many do you need, how many homes do you need to sample, to get a scientifically valid sample?" He said, "50, at minimum. Hundred would be better."
So we started talking with the citizens, seeing if they thought we could pull it off. They were very confident that we could pull it off. Marc was confident that they could do it on their end. And so, there was like this unique collaboration, really, between the scientists at Virginia Tech, me as a journalist becoming involved in it, and then the citizens themselves, who were really, again, in the forefront of getting all these test kits distributed throughout the city. You know, we ended up collecting four times as many as the city and state had collected in the previous six months, in like a three-week period.
AMY GOODMAN: And then there was Dr. Mona.
CURT GUYETTE: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what she did over at Hurley Medical Center, the pediatrician.
CURT GUYETTE: So, in August of 2015, the citizens, working with Marc Edwards and this whole team at Virginia Tech, who were working around the clock—you know, on this side, we’re working like crazy to get the kits distributed and collected and making sure we’re keeping track of everything, which was complicated. But, you know, they were doing it with the index cards and everything. And then, as soon as the sample kits started being returned, 12 at a time, we’d box them up and send them back to Virginia Tech. And they’re working around the clock to get them analyzed, because as soon as they start seeing the results, they’re going, "Oh, no, this is bad. This is bad." You know, by the time they got the first 24 bottles, they knew. There were so many with elevated levels that they knew that this was a crisis.
And so they created a website, the FlintWaterStudy.org website, which is incredible. And they started posting results. And then people with elevated levels of lead in their water, they started calling them up and saying, "Stop drinking your water. It’s dangerous."
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician at Flint’s Hurley Medical Center, saw the results that Virginia Tech had produced, saw what high lead levels there really were in the water, and, as a result of that, after, I think, talking to a friend, came up with their own idea. She came up with the idea of looking at records that were already on hand that—for the lead blood levels in children under five in Flint and in Genesee County as a whole. And what she found in analyzing thousands of samples was that after the switch was made to the river, the percentage of children in Flint with elevated levels of lead in their blood doubled.
AMY GOODMAN: Michigan [Journalist] of the Year, Curt Guyette. This is a Democracy Now! special, "Thirsty for Democracy: The Poisoning of an American City." We’ll be back in a minute.