“DEADLY WATER”

As Newark deals with lead in their water, Frontline digs for answers regarding the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Their findings, beyond disturbing.

For more information on “Frontline: Flint’s Deadly Water,” click here. 

Aired on September 9, 2019. 

TRANSCRIPT

GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

I'M JACK FORD.

IT'S BEEN CALLED ONE OF THE BIGGEST ENVIRONMENTAL CRISES TO HIT A MAJOR AMERICAN CITY IN YEARS, AND NEW YORK'S WATER PROBLEM ISN'T GOING AWAY ANY TIME SOON.

LEAD CONTINUES TO LEECH FROM AGING PIPES INTO THE CITY'S DRINKING WATER, A DANGEROUS SITUATION THAT'S LEFT RESIDENTS FURIOUS AND QUESTIONING WHETHER NEGLIGENCE HAS PUT LIVES AT RISK.

MANY HAVE BEEN FORCED TO RELY ON BOTTLED WATER AS OFFICIALS TRY TO REPLACE AROUND 18,000 LEAD SERVICE LINES.

NEW YORK'S PROBLEMS ARE OF COURSE REMINISCENT OF ANOTHER CITY THAT FOUND ITSELF IN THE NATIONAL SPOTLIGHT FOR ALL OF THE WRONG RESIDENTS.

LEAD IN THE WATER ALSO SICKEND RESIDENTS IN FLINT, MICHIGAN, BUT THERE WAS ANOTHER PROBLEM ONE LURKING IN THE PIPES ONE THAT CONTINUES TO CLAIM LIVES EVEN LATER.

THE FRONTLINE DOCUMENTARY TITLED 'FLINT'S DEADLY WATER' EXCLUSIVELY REVEALS THE UNREPORTED TOLL OF THE CITY'S WATER CRISIS AND GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS' FAILURE TO STOP IT.

TAKE A LOOK.

THE EXPOSURE OF THOUSANDS OF CHILDREN TO LEAD-TAINTED WATER WOULD BECOME A NATIONAL OUTRAGE.

WATER HAS BEEN POISONED WITH LEAD FOR MONTHS.

I THINK ABOUT THIS EVERY SINGLE DAY, AND I STILL TRY TO FIGURE OUT WHAT I COULD HAVE SEEN OR DONE OR ASKED, YOU KNOW, DIFFERENTLY.

FEARLY A THOUSAND HOMES STILL HAVE DANGEROUS LEVELS OF LEAD IN THE WATER.

BUT I JUST DIDN'T EVER IMAGINE THAT THERE WOULD BE A FAILURE AT EVERY LEVEL OF GOVERNMENT WITH SOMETHING AS BASIC AS THE SAFETY OF DRINKING WATER.

AND OVERSHADOWED BY THE LEAD POISONING WAS ANOTHER PROBLEM WITH THE WATER.

MOST PEOPLE OUTSIDE OF FLINT LOOK AT THE LEAD ISSUE AS THE MAIN ISSUE.

BUT THE KILLER HAS BEEN LEGIONNAIRES, AND PEOPLE DON'T KNOW THAT.

TWO MORE DEATHS HAVE BEEN LINKED TO THE LEGIONNAIRE'S DISEASE OUTBREAK --

THAT WAS THE ONE I THINK THEY TRIED TO HIDE THE MOST.

THAT'S THE ONE I STILL DON'T THINK THAT THEY WANT PEOPLE OUTSIDE OF FLINT TO KNOW.

AND FOR MORE ON FRONTLINE'S INVESTIGATION, WE'RE PLEASED TO BE JOINED NOW BY THE DOCUMENTARY'S DIRECTOR AND WRITER, ABBIE ELLIS.

NICE TO HAVE YOU HERE WITH US.

THANKS FOR HAVING ME.

I'LL GET INTO THE DETAILS IN A MOMENT, BUT WHAT WAS IT THAT DREW YOU TO THIS STORY?

I DID A FILM IN 2016 ABOUT THE LEAD CRISIS IN FLINT, AND WHILE WE WERE THERE DOING -- WE DID A 30-MINUTE FILM AT THAT TIME ABOUT JUST LEAD POISONING AND FLINT'S KIDS.

AND WHILE WE WERE THERE, IT BECAME VERY CLEAR THAT RESIDENTS WERE SUFFERING FROM OTHER AILMENTS, THAT THERE WAS MUCH MORE TO THE STORY, AND THAT WE NEEDED TO LOOK INTO IT.

I'M ALSO FROM MICHIGAN ORIGINALLY.

AND SO, YOU KNOW, I KEPT VISITING FLINT, IT BECAME APPARENT THAT PEOPLE IN FLINT ARE STILL VERY MUCH IN A CRISIS, AND PEOPLE OUTSIDE OF FLINT, EVEN IN THE STATE OF MICHIGAN, ARE VERY MUCH UNAWARE OF WHAT'S GOING ON AND THE SCOPE OF WHAT HAPPENED.

ONE OF THE HEADLINES HERE, IT'S NOT JUST LEAD THAT WE'RE TALKING ABOUT HERE, BUT LEGIONNAIRE'S DISEASE.

YEAH.

TALK ABOUT THAT AND HOW THAT HAS BECOME INTERWOVEN WITH THIS CRISIS.

SO WHEN THEY SWITCHED THE WATER SUPPLY, THERE WAS AN OUTBREAK OF LEGIONNAIRE'S DISEASE.

CASES STARTED POPPING UP IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE SWITCH IN THE SUMMERTIME.

AND FOR THOSE PEOPLE WHO DON'T KNOW, LEGIONNAIRE'S DISEASE IS A BACTERIAL PNEUMONIA.

YOU TYPICALLY SEE IT IN THE SUMMER TIME.

AND YOU GET IT FROM INHALING WATER DROPLETS FROM LIKE A HOT STEAMY SHOWER.

WE HAD AN EPISODE HERE IN THE BRONX.

THE MAJOR EPISODE PEOPLE REMEMBER IN PHILADELPHIA YEARS AGO WHERE THE NAME COMES FROM.

SO IN FLINT, THE OUTBREAK OF LEGIONNAIRES WENT UNANNOUNCED FOR ABOUT 18 MONTHS.

SO ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT ACTIONS TO BE TAKEN WHEN THERE IS AN OUTBREAK IS THE MEDICAL COMMUNITY IS ALERTED AND THE PUBLIC IS ALERTED TO THE OUTBREAK, BECAUSE OTHERWISE IF THE MEDICAL COMMUNITY DOESN'T KNOW, YOU MIGHT SHOW UP TO THE HOSPITAL WITH SYMPTOMS OF PNEUMONIA, AND THEY WON'T RUN THE TESTS NECESSARY TO DIAGNOSIS YOU FOR LEGIONNAIRES.

THEREFORE THEY'LL TREAT YOU WITH JUST A TYPICAL PNEUMONIA ANTIBIOTIC, AND IT DOESN'T WORK.

IT'S NOT THE SAME TREATMENT.

AND YOU'LL GET MUCH SICKER AND YOU CAN DIE.

SO THERE WAS NO ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF THIS OUTBREAK FOR ABOUT 18 MONTHS.

AND BECAUSE OF THAT FACT, WE DECIDED TO TASK OURSELVES WITH UNDERSTANDING THE TRUE SCOPE.

SO THEY SAY WHEN THERE IS AN OUTBREAK AND NOBODY KNOWS ABOUT IT, YOU SHOULD LOOK AT PNEUMONIA DEATHS BECAUSE IT'S POSSIBLE THAT PEOPLE WENT TO THE HOSPITAL AND GOT DIAGNOSED WITH PNEUMONIA.

THE NUMBERS CAN BE DRAMATICALLY DIFFERENT FROM WHAT THE PUBLIC THOUGHT THEY WERE.

YES.

WE OFTEN TALK ABOUT WITH THIS CASE NEGLIGENCE, BUT DID YOU ALSO FIND IN TERMS OF CONDUCT BY OFFICIALS HERE THAT THERE WAS MORE THAN NEGLIGENCE, THAT THERE WAS AN INTENTIONAL CONDUCT, PERHAPS EVEN CRIMINAL CONDUCT?

SO IT'S HARD TO SAY.

WHAT WE FOUND IS THAT A VARIETY OF PEOPLE AT A NUMBER OF DIFFERENT AGENCIES, WHETHER IT'S THE COUNTY, THE STATE AND EVEN THE CDC WERE AWARE OF WHAT WAS GOING ON, KNEW THE APPROPRIATE STEPS THAT NEEDED TO BE TAKEN, AND JUST DIDN'T TAKE THOSE STEPS TO EITHER MITIGATE OR TOP THE OUTBREAK.

AND THAT'S VERY CURIOUS.

AND IN MICHIGAN, THAT ULTIMATELY FALLS ON THE STATE HEALTH DEPARTMENT.

YOU KNOW, IT WAS 18 MONTHS BEFORE THE CITY OF FLINT WAS MADE AWARE OF THIS OUTBREAK.

AND SO THEY'VE SINCE CHARGED THE DIRECTOR OF -- FORMER DIRECTOR OF THE HEALTH DEPARTMENT AND THE FORMER CHIEF MEDICAL EXECUTIVE WITH INVOLUNTARY MANSLAUGHTER AND NEGLIGENCE I THINK IS INCLUDED IN THAT.

SO, YOU KNOW, YOU COULD MAKE THE ARGUMENT, CERTAINLY.

RIGHT.

HOW WOULD YOU CHARACTERIZE HOW FLINT HAS PROGRESSED, IF YOU WILL, FROM THE TIME THAT THIS FIRST BECAME REVEALED LITERALLY UP TO THE PRESENT?

YOU KNOW, I THINK THAT IN FLINT, THE STORY JUST KEEPS GETTING WORSE.

WHEN YOU HAVE A PUBLIC HEALTH CRISIS THAT GOES UNANNOUNCED, UNDETECTED FOR SO LONG, YOU DON'T REALLY UNDERSTAND THE SCOPE OF THE HEALTH IMPLICATIONS UNTIL YEARS LATER.

AND SO I THINK PEOPLE IN FLINT ARE STILL FIGURING OUT WHETHER OR NOT THIS AILMENT THAT THEY'VE BEEN SUFFERING FROM SINCE 2014 IS A RESULT OF THE WATER CONTAMINATION.

YOU KNOW, PEOPLE WHO SURVIVED LEGIONNAIRE'S DISEASE, WE FOUND 20 HAVE SINCE DIED IN THE MONTHS, IN THE YEARS TO FOLLOW.

AND SO PEOPLE IN FLINT ARE STILL VERY MUCH DEALING WITH THE CRISIS, AS IF IT HAPPENED YESTERDAY WHILE ALSO TRYING, HOPING, STRIVING TO MOVE ON.

BUT I THINK, YOU KNOW, IN FLINT, THERE IS ANOTHER CHAPTER AND THERE IS ANOTHER CHAPTER WHEN YOU THINK YOU'VE HEARD THE WHOLE STORY, SOMETHING ELSE POPS UP.

WELL, I HAVE TO TELL YOU, IT'S A MARVELOUS DOCUMENTARY.

IT'S WHAT DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKING SHOULD BE IN TERMS OF STORYTELLING AND FOCUSING ON SIGNIFICANT ISSUES.

SO MARVELOUS WORK.

THANK YOU.

BY YOU, OUR FRIENDS AT FRONTLINE, AND IT'S SOMETHING THAT PEOPLE SHOULD BE WATCHING.

SO THANKS FOR SPENDING SOME TIME WITH US AND TALKING WITH US.

THANKS FOR HAVING ME.

AND A REMINDER FOR YOU FOLKS ON HOW TO WATCH THE DOCUMENTARY, 'FLINT'S DEADLY WATER,' MAKE SURE YOU SAIDHEAD TO OUR WEBSITE.

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