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tv   America Tonight  Al Jazeera  February 24, 2016 9:30pm-10:01pm EST

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currency in trade globally, called reputation, privacy, trust. we will not compromise, we will fight for you, the reasonable reaction will come over the bar as bill gates said. >> we thank you for the brain power that you have definitive. michael fertig. the news continues here on al jazeera america. >> to know that this is something that could have been prevented, that wasn't, because people lied and didn't do their jobs, makes me sick. >> are you sorry that the people of flint don't have fresh drinking water? >> i am concerned. >> it's so frustrating you just don't know what to do.
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>> thank you for joining us for this special edition of "america tonight." i'm al jazeera. lori jane gliha. ahead of the state's primary march 8 we wanted to take a look back at the water trup troublest have plagued the city since 2014. leed lead contamination and a water problem that may be linked to several deaths. it may be hard to believe but just a few months ago, it was difficult for flint residents to even have their voices heard. >> to say to flint residents they are not people that are disposable. we just are not. it is a crime for people to be serviced with water that's classified by the epa as toxic waste. >> reporter: at rhonda kelso's
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house in flint michigan -- >> i have a filter here. >> that is one of the official ones? >> filters out the lead. >> reporter: the 52-year-old stroke survivor says she won't drink it. >> i have to depend on other family members and friends to take me places, and help me to go and get bottled water. >> this is water that came out the tap, look at this green at the bottom. >> reporter: it was only a few months ago when she says she collected this from her unfill terd faucet. unfiltered faucet. for more than a year now, rhonda and tens of thousands of flint residents, mostly minorities and many low income have been without certainty that their
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drinking water is safe. most recently hers tested with high amounts of lead, a toxic substance especially for children. rhonda's 12-year-old daughter kaylynn is developmentally disabled and has a heart condition. >> when you heard lead poisoning or lead problems in the water what did that mean for your family? >> it raises anxiety level, i feel like i'm numb and still rebuilding from a water issue in my home. in addition to my daughter being exposed to lead. >> reporter: how much had she been drinking the water? >> almost a year before that i got my own filter to put in there. we were drinking the water we were exposed and we were cooking with the water.
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>> it's going to rain. >> it's overwhelming, and this is just something that every day you have to deal with. >> put it back up there on the banister. >> flipt'flint's water problem d when the city opted out of a long term agreement to get water from the city of detroit. that meant flint would save up to $3 million, would not source from lake huron but instead would use the flint river. at the time officials celebrated the switch. soon after there were problems of discolored water and eventually news of lead. a year and a half later flint switched back to detroit water. >> well, the kindest thing you could possibly say is that they were complete incompetent,
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sloppy, lazy and uncaring. >> mark edwards is an environmental engineer who specializes in water treatment. his team has independently tested water samples at hundreds of homes throughout the city. >> when we first got results we just didn't believe it. it was hazardous waste levels of leed coming out of this person's attach, two and a half times hazardous waste in her tap. >> it turns out flint water was so corrosive that it started to eat away at people's pipes causing lead from some of those pipes to leech into the drunking water. what is it about the flint river that makes it so corrosive? >> well, there's high color i'd in it so it's perfectly fine for fish, it's fine to ca canoe in t the salt in the water will tend to eat up pipes including lead and iron pipes and that's what happened in flint. >> reporter: even though flint
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river is no longer being used as a water source edwards says people in flint are still at risk. >> we know from history that this can cause death, it can cause miscarriages, it can cause elevated blood lead, all kinds of health effects. >> reporter: where are we now? is the water safe? >> it's probably another month or two before we can say it's meeting federal standards. >> we have no idea the enormity of this exposure so we are assuming this every child has been exposed. >> reporter: dr. mona hannah atisha is the director of the program in flint. she spent weeks analyzing the results and determined the lead poisoning caused a spike in kids. >> we'll need early intervention and in ten years there's going
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to be more kids with the adhd diagnosis and 20 years with violent effects and the criminal justice system. we won't see them now but in the future. >> it was jaw-dropping to realize kind of what had been going on and i think what made me physically mad was that it didn't have to happen. that it was preventible. >> let me go check see if water is boiling? you want to help me? >> yep. >> reporter: many flint residents like amber whitman worries about future health effects. she has a seven-year-old daughter and another child on the way. >> when this has been going on and no one has been aware of it for long periods of time, i 30 it would concern any parent. because most of the damage that is caused from lead is
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irreversible. >> reporter: amber is also concerned about her grandmother, 70-year-old amy penrose. >> they found a noticed on my kidney. my granddaughter researched it and found you can get cancer from water contaminated with lead. >> reporter: the state is distributing free filters similar to this. it's also providing free water testing to flint residents and pledged $9 million to help mitigate the crisis. but for a financially troubled city with nearly 42% living in poverty, the ongoing lead crisis is a mounting burden. >> we were already having trouble trying to purchase just food. and now what little assistance i had from the state has to completely go towards water. in the meantime, our water bill
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even though we're not using it is like $120 a month. >> woo hoo! bottled water. >> amber use he food stamps to buy bottled water for cooking and drinking. >> when people who don't live in flint say things like, well why don't you just move? i'm like, it's not that easy. most of us don't have a choice. we financially cannot move. we're stuck here. there's nothing that we can do about it. >> reporter: amy penrose says the people of flint deserve an explanation for why the public's health has been at risk for so long. >> you have a responsibility. when you take that office, you are there to protect me. you are there to protect my friends. you are there to protect mi my family. there are no excuses. >> reporter: next, a look back at who was in charge at the height of the crisis.
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>> what do you recall what you said then, since it wasn't true, a lie? l'
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>> welcome back.there have beenf congressional hearings since january to discuss what exactly went wrong in flint and how to make things right, a group of lawsuits is taking shape in the state. the state agency in charge of
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ensuring state drinking water in the state, he has since resigned, but at the time he failed to accept any responsibility for the flint water crisis. here is a look back at our investigation. when gavin walters weight gain wasn't keeping up with his twin, garrett, gwen had it tested. >> to knowing this is something that could have been prevented that wasn't because people lied and didn't do their jobs makes me sick. you want some water? >> gavin who already suffers from a compromised immune system had been poisoned by lead. >> it says the lead level is abnormally high and the iron level is abnormally low. he's at 6.5, he's he's not supposed to be over 5.
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>> water from the flint michigan tap in her house. >> the max is 15. >> another independent evaluation by virginia tech researchers found lead at levels they considered to be hazardous waste. >> i was hysterical. i mean inconsolable. oh my god, i'm poisoning my kids. if he has behavioral issues, the question would always be, would he have had these issues had he not had lead poisoning? >> they are telling me i'm liar, they said i'm stupid. >> before the water was tested, city and state officials dismissher claims. >> no i'm not stupid. i decided the only way to prove that was to get the science. >> reporter: lee ann set identity to prove them wrong,
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and uncovered a much more serious circumstance in the pipes. >> they thought because it was flint they could get away with it, that nobody was going to care, they were wrong. >> there needs to be a full independent investigation, people need to be put under oath to answer questions because they have not told the truth multiple times. >> reporter: kurt guyette is with the american civil liberties union. they have announced a lawsuit against the city and the state for failing to protect the city's citizens. >> i don't think there's any doubt here, but is there gross negligence? >> the city down played the possibility of lead poisoning for months. these internal e-mails obtained by guyette, and another memo details the major public health
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public health concern to keep the community safe. >> they knew it was a problem and their response was people can just relax. that to me is unconscionable. >> reporter: guyette is not the only person that has concerns. flint residents continue to rally. >> i don't know why there aren't advance distributing bottled water to home. >> how can they hide, of this stuff for 18 months? the inaction on that is ridiculous. >> reporter: the state agency tasked with h testing the water for safety, is still trying to explain what went wrong. >> i have said mistakes were made. >> heading the state department of environmentalist quality.
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>> our state and the city and our partners at epa and we have a plan in place that is addressing the issue that will eliminate the lead exposure and ensure safe drinking water in flirnt. flint. >> has there been a public apology to the people in flint? >> i have brought the issue forward because of our tone. >> are you sorry that the people of flint don't have fresh drinking water? >> i am concerned and certainly recognize that is an issue for the city of flint so yes we are concerned. >> you won't say you're sorry? >> i -- i recognize flint. is anxious and concerned about it and i feel the plan that we have addresses the issue and we're committed to seeing that plan through. >> during an october press conference, wyatt announced
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operation known as corrosion control have been instituted. >> note that when the city switched from detroit sewer and water that the city utilized corrosion controls. >> reporter: he now admits his public statement was wrong. >> when you stated that corrosion control was in place in flint, was that true? >> no. corrosion control is a term of art. and there are multiple corrosion control techniques. i want to be real clear. flint needed more corrosion control. and we understand that. >> reporter: so would you call what you said then, since it wasn't true, a lie? >> no. i wouldn't call a lie. it certainly wasn't misrepresent anything. >> how do you think you're going to regain the public trust when you just sat here and told me what you told the public was not
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true? >> no. what i said to you was true. and it was not that it wasn't true. what i do want to indicate is to get the public trust back, that will only come again from our action he. and it will be demonstrated through our actions. and that includes resources, to eliminate lead exposure, it includes transparency wp to ourh respect to our testing process. >> reporter: not only did the state mislead, the method for testing was also misleading. >> why was it important to have a bottle with a skinny indemnify neck? >> it would keep the lead out of the pipe that the consumers were collecting. again if they used a normal
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bottle normal glass filling it up normally, lead levels would be high. if you used the bottle the state was using, with the tiny opening, it looked like the lead levels were safe. >> whether we came out with our advice that says flint water is unsafe on our website, and gave instructions to people on how to avoid the lead in the water, mdq would run to the press and say the water's still safe. don't listen to them. >> simply said the protocol we are using i don't believe is protective of health, and therefore more needs to be done in our testing protocol to ensure we are identifying a rick. >> overall if you are grading yourself, what do you think? >> i'm going to let others grade me. >> do you think you deserve an a? >> no.
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>> do you think you deserve an f? >> no. >> how is this different in flint? >> it's clear. >> to lee ann, who has since moved to virginia, the state system has failed her. >> when will this be over for her? >> people don't realize. >> we have about 13 million lead pipes in this country. and in general we don't know where they are. and it's land time and time again whether people just realize oh i'm sick or my daughter or child has lead poisoning. they spend months and months and don't find lead in paint, blood levels keep glg goin going up ay find it's in the water. >> ahead, could it have been prevented? >> i don't know what to do. >> we take a look at the
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unprecedented outbreak of leej legionnaire's disease in flints.
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lead is not the only water problem in flint, michigan. the cdc is investigating an outbreak of legionnaire's disease, nine died from the disease and health officials knew about you the problem long before they notified citizens of flint. >> terry nelson and her husband duane were high school sweethearts who spent 22 years who lived in the quiet community
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of flushing, michigan, ten miles west of flint. >> he was happy, that was good. >> reporter: they lived far enough outside the city, they thought they wouldn't be affected by flint's contaminated water. when flint switched its water source from the great lakes to the polluted flint river in 2014, residents first experienced bacteria and chemicals in their drinking water and later discovered lead. now, that tainted water is being blamed for yet another public health crisis. when her husband passed away over the summer, terry suspected it was his contact with flint water that led to his sudden death. terry believes her husband was exposed to contaminated water while he was receiving cancer treatments at a flint hospital. >> i told him tall the time, that i'm doing -- all the time that, i'm doing okay and the kids are okay.
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>> according to the death certificate, legionnaire's disease was a factor in duane's death. the respiration issue is caused when water borne bac bacteria ae breathed into one' one's lungs. pat of an unprecedented legionnaire's disease outbreak. during much of the same time span when flint's water source was questionable and causing other health problems. >> why wasn't there more proactive information given to the public at that time? >> because we didn't have a story to tell. >> mark valacec heads the health department. he says government officials first noticed a spike in cases in the summer of 2014, he says the data was available publicly but saw no reason to make a
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public announcement. >> what is the point of presenting information to the public that is numbers where you don't have a connection or something that they can do? >> heather beach says she and others deserved a warning this a water related respiratory illness was lurking in their community especially after her son got sick during the summer. >> when the pediatrician says your son is too sick to walk and that he has to be rushed by ambulance to the hospital, it's scary. >> reporter: is it a coincidence in your mind that there was a legionnaire's outbreak? >> no, it's what we would expect based on experiments we did in 2014 and the paper we wrote. you would have predicted that this would have happened. >> mark edwards is the virginia tech engineer whose extensive water research and testing in flint revealed lead problems in
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the drinking water. in 2014 his team also tested for and found legionella in the water. one would expect to see higher numbers of bacteria. that's exactly what his team discovered in some of flint's water. >> it is indisputable a legionella outbreak occurred. you say what occurred? a very excelling case that this was related to the water. >> terry nelson says she wants answers, after the hospital her husband received treatment from reported low levels of legionella. >> that's i don't know what to do. >> reporter: hospital officials say the medical facility has since installed new safeguards to meet quality and safety standards and no tests
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they said have ever determined had a mclaren flint was the source of exposure for any patients. no matter what the cause of the legionnaire's outbreak parents like heather beach are hoping sometime soon, they can stop worrying about the water and start focusing on what's most important. her family. >> i would die for my kids. they're my life. i marine, nothing else matters. in my whole world. except those boys. so there's nothing -- nothing that i won't do for them. >> thank you for joining us for this special edition of "america tonight." tell us what you think at aljazeera.com/americatonight. and talk to us on twitter or facebook. and come back. we'll have more of "america tonight" tomorrow.
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