Winner of The Hillman Prize for Book Journalism - 2019
When the people of Flint, Michigan, turned on their faucets in April 2014, the water pouring out was poisoned with lead and other toxins.
Through a series of disastrous decisions, the state government had switched the city’s water supply to a source that corroded Flint’s aging lead pipes. Complaints about the foul-smelling water were dismissed: the residents of Flint, mostly poor and African American, were not seen as credible, even in matters of their own lives.
It took eighteen months of activism by city residents and a band of dogged outsiders to force the state to admit that the water was poisonous. By that time, twelve people had died and Flint’s children had suffered irreparable harm. The long battle for accountability and a humane response to this man-made disaster has only just begun.
In the first full account of this American tragedy, Anna Clark's The Poisoned City recounts the gripping story of Flint’s poisoned water through the people who caused it, suffered from it, and exposed it. It is a chronicle of one town, but could also be about any American city, all made precarious by the neglect of infrastructure and the erosion of democratic decision making. Places like Flint are set up to fail—and for the people who live and work in them, the consequences can be fatal.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
We thought we were familiar with the public health crisis in Flint, Mich.—but Detroit journalist Anna Clark goes beneath the surface to explain the decades of negligence and miscues that led to one of the biggest urban disasters in American history. Clark's clear, pointed prose makes her difficult subject matter easy to digest—and makes it clear how this type of debacle could happen again. As furious as the details made us, there’s an empowering undercurrent to The Poisoned City, thanks to the many brave individuals who fought for their town's future amid this catastrophe.
Journalist Clark (Michigan Literary Luminaries: From Elmore Leonard to Robert Hayden) provides a comprehensive account of the Flint water crisis. Drawing on both existing and original reporting, Clark boils down this complex tragedy and chronologically traces the series of reckless decisions by city and state officials that led to the poisoning of a city: the changing of the water source, trust in an insufficient treatment program, failure to acknowledge residents' complaints, and repeated cover-ups. The book also demonstrates how, rather than the result of a single decision, the tragedy was "a decades-old, slow-burn emergency" rooted in such broader social, political, and economic trends as industry divestment and population decline, underfunding of cities, inequality and the legacy of segregation, and a "democracy deficit" caused by the emergency management system. Clark also sprinkles in compelling forays into the history of lead, the initial settling of the area, and the early development of public water systems. While devastating, this account is also inspiring in its coverage of the role of Flint's "lionhearted residents" and their grassroots activism, community organizing, and independent investigation in bringing the crisis to national attention and to the courts. This extremely informative work gives an authoritative account of a true American urban tragedy that still continues.