The Poisoned City: Flint’s Water and the American Urban Tragedy

Though he is barely more than fifty years old, somewhere deep in Marc Edwards there burns the fury of an Old Testament prophet. He is a tall, lanky man — he runs most every day — with brown hair, silver wire-rimmed glasses and an enviable amount of get-it-done energy. But he carries himself heavily. His temper has become infamous in his field, erupting at the perceived moral failings, hypocrisies and errors of others.

Edwards grew up on the shores of Lake Erie in western New York when it, the shallowest of the Great Lakes, was a symbol for the emerging environmental movement. After decades of bearing the detritus of industry, agricultural pollution and human sewage, huge swaths of the 9,910-square-mile lake were declared “dead.” When Edwards was five years old, the slick of oils and chemicals on the Cuyahoga River, which empties into Lake Erie, caught fire. Dr. Seuss, in his 1971 children’s book The Lorax, imagined a toxic place where “fish walk on their fins and get woefully weary in search of some water that isn’t so smeary. I hear things are just as bad up in Lake Erie.”