The Flint Activist, who founded a citizens’ movement that helped to expose the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, is being hailed as an environmental savior and is one of the recipients of the prestigious 2018 Goldman Environmental Prize. The honor recognizes grassroots environmental activists from around the globe.
When the city of Flint switched its water source to decrease the budget spent in April 2014, nearly 100000 residents were left without safe tap water availability after lead began leaching into the supply. LeeAnne Walters is a mother of four. The water in Ms. Walters’ home turned brownish and she spotted a rash on her 3 years old twins. Afterwards, she and her children started experiencing other health concerns like hair loss which made her suspect the brown colour of the water to be a cause.
She then urged for inspection from officials, complaining them about the bottles of discolored water. In February 2015 the city sent someone to inspect her complaints. Tests revealed that lead levels were at 104 parts per billion which is seven times the acceptable limit. The unprecedented levels for Flint were so high that a city is required to alert all its residents as soon as possible, according to federal law.
On top of that, the state authorities continued to tell residents that the drinking water was safe, even as one of Walters’ children was diagnosed with lead poisoning. And all of the kids were tested positive for lead exposure. They even stated Ms. Walter lier and stupid.
Walters spent months in educating herself about the water chemistry and read technical documents about the Flint water system. She then worked with environmental engineer Dr. Marc Edwards, from Virginia Tech, who helped her conduct extensive water testing in different homes of the city.
She then proceeded by taking sample methodically of each zip code in Flint and set up a transparent and strong system to ensure the fairness of the tests, working over 100 hours per week for three straight weeks.
Altogether, Walters, her neighbors, and the Virginia Tech team tested more than 800 independent water samples from homes around their town in Flint.
Walters and Edwards together proved that “one in every six homes had lead water levels exceeding the prescribed legal safety threshold,” the prize administrators stated. Walters suggested that the contamination was traced back to the city switching its water supply to the city, which had not properly treated the water to prevent the pipes from corroding, causing lead to leach into the water.
Eventually, Flint switched back to its previous water source from Detroit. The state of emergency was declared by the Obama administration and the state. By then, Walters didn’t give up working on water quality issues in Flint and some other U.S. cities.
Her twins, which are now seven years old, are still dealing with the effects of drinking unfit water. Walters tells us that her children still have health concerns like hand-eye coordination issues and speech impairment because of the lead poisoning. She told that her own eyelashes did eventually grow back, but now, they’re shorter than they’ve ever been, and the fine hair on the crown of her head is still “super thin.”
With this, some jurors praised Ms. Walters’ “inquisitive, logical mind and persistence” They further stated- “Her powerful moral compass communal spirit and proved equally critical to her ability to reach and manage Flint residents and experts alike.”
Though Ms. Walters is rewarded with Major Environmental hero Prize year from North America, but the prize is also awarded to activists from several other global regions.
The other 5 winners are-
FRANCIA MÁRQUEZ from Colombia: A formidable leader of the Afro-Colombian community, who pressured the Colombian government and organized the women of La Toma, in the Cauca region, to prohibit illegal gold mining on their ancestral place.
MANNY CALONZO from the Philippines: Manny Calonzo spearheaded an advocacy campaign that forced the Philippine government to enable a national ban on the production, use, and sale of lead paint. His crucial efforts have saved millions of Filipino kids from dying because of lead poisoning.
CLAIRE NOUVIAN from France: A tireless protector of the oceans and marine life. Claire Nouvian led a data-driven, focused, advocacy campaign against the harsh fishing practice of deep-sea bottom. Her work yielded French support for the ban on this unethical practice, securing an EU-wide ban.
KHANH NGUY THI from Vietnam: Khanh Nguy Thi used scientific research work and engaged Vietnamese state agencies to inspect for sustainable long-term bioenergy projections and reduction in country’s reliance on coal for electricity generation. Her efforts helped eliminate 115 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions from Vietnam annually.
MAKOMA LEKALAKALA & LIZ MCDAID from South Africa: Makoma Lekalakala and Liz McDaid constructed a broad coalition to stop South Africa’s huge nuclear deal with Russia. The work resulted in a landmark legal victory against the secret deal of $76 billion, protecting South Africa from lifetimes of nuclear waste.