A stay-at-home mother of four and trained medical assistant who led the effort to expose the water crisis in Flint, Michigan has recieved a prestigious award that honors grassroots environmental activists from across the globe.
LeeAnne Walters is the North American recipient of this year’s Goldman Environmental Prize, which is awarded to one activist from each of the world’s six inhabited continents.
After Walters’s eyelashes started falling out, her twin toddlers broke out in a rash, and her teenage son started experiencing vision and kidney problems in 2014, she filed a formal complaint. Months later, in February 2015, local officials tested lead levels in her water—which, they determined, were dangerously high.
While officials initially insisted Walters’s case was an anomoly—and thus did not indicate a broader threat to the public—she recruited EPA regional manager Miguel del Toral and Marc Edwards, a professor and environmental engineer at Virginia Tech to help her conduct city-wide testing.
“Walters methodically sampled each zip code in Flint and set up a system to ensure the integrity of the tests. She worked over 100 hours per week for three straight weeks and collected over 800 water samples—garnering an astounding 90 percent response rate. She found lead levels as high as 13,200 ppb—more than twice the level the EPA classifies as hazardous waste,” according to a statement by the Goldman Environmental Foundation.
In 2011, the state had taken over Flint’s finances amid a budget crisis. In hopes of cutting down on the city’s water costs, officials made plans to build a pipeline from Lake Huron so it would no longer have to pay Detroit for access. However, they needed a temporary fix during the construction phase.
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