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How zip codes hid the water crisis in Flint

Oct 17, 2016

It was late September 2015 when the lid blew off of the Flint water disaster.

At the time, much of the attention and credit went to Virginia Tech water scientist Marc Edwards and to Flint pediatrician Dr Mona Hanna-Attisha.

Edwards had been issuing a steady flood of warnings based on his tests of water from Flint homes while Dr. Hanna-Attisha's study of blood lead levels in Flint's children finally convinced state officials that a public health catastrophe had occurred.

But there's another player in all of this and his analysis of Dr. Hanna-Attisha's medical findings destroyed the state's contention that Flint's water problem was being overblown.

Rick Sadler is a Flint native and a Michigan State University urban geographer and it was a phone call he got from Dr. Hanna-Attisha last September that changed the course of the water crisis in Flint.

... people who live in the same zip code can receive their water from different sources.

She had been getting a lot of pushback from the state because its findings didn't support hers. But when Sadler took a closer look at the data, he determined that one of the major flaws in the state's analysis was that they were examining the water contamination based on zip codes.

And since often, people who live in the same zip code can receive their water from different sources, people with low lead contamination were being lumped in with people high lead levels. This made the state's data seem less alarming than it really was.   

Sadler joined Stateside to talk about his recent article in the online publication The Conversation, his analysis of the data in 2015, and why zip codes are the "bane of [his] existence."

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