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From Flint To Your Faucet: Investigative Reporter Describes Breaking The Lead Contamination Story

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Carlos Osorio
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AP Images

When investigative journalist Curt Guyette was hired by the Michigan branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), he never expected to be breaking one of the biggest stories of 2015. Guyette, who is speaking at Point Park University tomorrow, told Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer that the Flint water crisis story was a collaborative mission by many local organizations to find and reveal truth.

Guyette was first assigned to cover the Michigan Emergency Manager laws, in which state appointed officials supplant elected representatives.  Around July 2015, he received a leaked memo by the EPA warning of high lead levels in Flint’s drinking water.

The city had recently made the decision to switch their water source from Lake Huron to the local Flint River. After the release of the EPA document, Guyette and other groups took an interest in the water’s treatment and corrosivity.

Working together with Virginia Tech, the ACLU collected samples of water to be tested from the residents of Flint. 227 samples were analyzed in total.

“It really took the work of a lot of different people,” said Guyette. “But primarily, it was the residents of Flint who refused to believe the lie that their water was safe, just kept pushing and pushing until they were able to get to the truth and expose it.”

While the story was gaining national attention, the damage to Flint had already been done. The city’s newly elected mayor has had to replace all of the city’s water pipes, which were too heavily damaged by the corrosive water to be repaired.

While the city has been switched back to Lake Huron’s water, many residents are still drinking from water bottles.

As a result of his work, many branches of the ACLU are now interested in hiring investigative journalists like Guyette. He is currently the only reporter of his kind and believes that non-profit journalism will becoming a thriving industry as mainstream news outlets continue to cut costs.

With his success, Guyette says he’s still not stopping his work and investigation.

“My focus at this point is still on getting to the truth about the decision-making behind the choice to go to the river in the first place,” he said. “There is still a lot of information that has not come to light yet, and I’m still working on bringing it to light.”

More Essential Pittsburgh segments can be heard here.

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