Last fall, Michigan state environmental regulators tried to discredit a Virginia Tech professor and his team of engineering students who documented the toxic levels of lead in the Flint, Michigan, drinking water. Also under attack: democracy.
That's the theme of a bonus episode of Save Our Towns, the award-winning Internet video series that provides news, information, and viewpoints to mayors and town managers in Appalachia.
In the episode, three doctoral students in civil and environmental engineering speak out. Joyce Zhu of Singapore talks about the socioeconomic status of Flint. Rebekah Martin of Midlothian, Virginia, says of politicians and regulators, "We had the capability to determine whether they were lying." And Christina Devine of Alexandria, Virginia, concludes of implicated government officials: “They think they can get away with anything.”
The episode opens with a recap of the Flint story, including a closer look at the effect of lead poisoning on the children of former Flint resident LeeAnne Walters, who brought Virginia Tech's Marc Edwards onto the case. Earlier this year, Walters came to Blacksburg, along with her daughter, Kaylie, and twin boys. One of the twins is no longer as big or healthy as his brother.
Edwards, who is the Charles Lunsford Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Walters offer advice to people in small towns facing adversity. Guru Ghosh, vice president for Outreach and International Affairs, articulates attributes expressed by those who fight to right powerful wrongs, which both Edwards and Walters display.
The episode also includes footage from Flint, including an interview with U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, whose district includes Flint. He describes how Michigan's state government "took over the city of Flint, suspended democracy, and made a whole series of decisions that never would have been made by people who were directly accountable to their neighbors."
On the City Council, Eric Mays worked with residents, including Walters. Mays says, "The nation and in some cases the world is looking at us through the water fight. But it's also a fight over democracy."
"How far are you prepared to take something?" Edwards asks in his interview with Save Our Towns. "Determination is all powerful. … You need allies. You've got to reach out to people. Never give up."