In late 2015, Flint, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, became a household name as high levels of lead were found in the blood of children who lived there. While immediate causes such as the alternation in water supplies and cost-saving technical decisions were highlighted in the media, Flint is also as an extreme but quintessential case study that shows the intersections of environmental health, governance, the built environment, systemic racism, and social inequity. As such, professors and teachers are looking to “teach Flint” in our classes. This bibliography for teachers was crowdsourced from a range of teachers and researchers, including Tracy Perkins, Rebecca Gasior Altman, Malini Ranganathan, and Michelle Glowa, from a variety of disciplines. There are many other sources, but these are are recommended for their focus on the wider material, political, social, and economic contexts within the Flint water crisis.
Goodnough, Abby, and Scott Atkinson. (2016). “A Potent Side Effect to the Flint Water Crisis: Mental Health Problems.” New York Times.
Health care workers are scrambling to help the people here cope with what many fear will be chronic consequences of the city’s water contamination crisis: profound stress, worry, depression and guilt. Uncertainty about their own health and the health of their children, the open-ended nature of the crisis, and raw anger over government’s role in both causing the lead contamination and trying to remedy it, are all taking their toll on Flint’s residents.
Highsmith, A. R. (2015). Demolition Means Progress: Flint, Michigan, and the Fate of the American Metropolis. University of Chicago Press.
In one of the most comprehensive works yet written on the history of inequality and metropolitan development in modern America, Andrew R. Highsmith uses the case of Flint to explain how the perennial quest for urban renewal—even more than white flight, corporate abandonment, and other forces—contributed to mass suburbanization, racial and economic division, deindustrialization, and political fragmentation. Challenging much of the conventional wisdom about structural inequality and the roots of the nation’s “urban crisis,” Demolition Means Progress shows in vivid detail how public policies and programs designed to revitalize the Flint area ultimately led to the hardening of social divisions.
Highsmith, A.R. (2016). “Flint’s toxic water crisis was 50 years in the making.” LA Times.
Highsmith also writes an Op Ed in the LA Times that summarizes some of the arguments in his book, and relates the them explicitly to the lead crisis in Flint.
Markowitz, G., & Rosner, D. (2013). Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and the Fate of America’s Children. Univ of California Press.
In their new book, the authors have researched the history of a succession of dilemmas posed by childhood lead poisoning in the United States over the past century, each demanding tough choices, embattled advocacy, and creative public policy solutions. Some of these same dilemmas, the costs of abatement of lead in older housing stock, persist into the present day. As Markowitz and Rosner observe, the history of the lead industry here in the United States is one marked by missed opportunities, special interests, lead industry-funded research, disingenuous tactics, misguided public testimony, inadequate policies, and a legacy of lead burdens for generations of American children. But, as they also note, it is a history of brilliant insights, elegant science, dogged pursuit of the truth, dedicated public health advocates, and the transformative power of social activism meeting technological progress to effect enlightened change.
Markowitz, G., & Rosner, D. (2013). Deceit and denial: The deadly politics of industrial pollution. Univ of California Press.
This book reveals for the first time the public relations campaign that the lead industry undertook to convince Americans to use its deadly product to paint walls, toys, furniture, and other objects in America’s homes, despite a wealth of information that children were at risk for serious brain damage and death from ingesting this poison. This book highlights the immediate dangers ordinary citizens face because of the relentless failure of industrial polluters to warn, inform, and protect their workers and neighbors. It offers a historical analysis of how corporate control over scientific research has undermined the process of proving the links between toxic chemicals and disease. The authors also describe the wisdom, courage, and determination of workers and community members who continue to voice their concerns in spite of vicious opposition. Readable, ground-breaking, and revelatory, Deceit and Denial provides crucial answers to questions of dangerous environmental degradation, escalating corporate greed, and governmental disregard for its citizens’ safety and health.
Sellers, C. (2016). “Piping as poison: the Flint water crisis and America’s toxic infrastructure.” The Conversation.
From the article: “Long before that fateful decision two years ago to turn to the Flint River for the city’s drinking water, pipes made of lead had threaded throughout the city’s underbelly. Flint shares this historical legacy with thousands of other cities, suburbs and towns across our country, and most likely this is not the first time, even in Flint, that these pipes have conveyed tiny amounts of the toxin into homes and children.Over the past few decades, our environmental laws and agencies have met with much success in curbing some of Americans’ exposure to lead, a damaging neurotoxin. Yet they have struggled to contain this continuing danger precisely because it is literally built into our water systems.”
Sellers, c. et al. (2016). “The Flint Water Crisis: A Special Edition Environment and Health Roundtable.” Edge Effects.
“In the following roundtable, I and Amy Hay have gathered together reflections on Flint from six scholars—one engineer, two economists, and three historians—exploring these and related legacies. Waking up to Flint’s fuller ramifications, these contributors collectively show, demands the longer and wider perspectives that history-minded scholarship can bring to bear.”
Turner, R. (2015). “The slow poisoning of Freddie Gray and the hidden violence against black communities.” The Conversation.
From the article: “The life of Freddie Gray, and of so many others, was endangered many times over by numerous forms of systemic racism before it was finally taken in the custody of police – an event that has sparked protests in Baltimore this week. Among these forms of endangerment was the lead that poisoned Gray as a child.”
Warren, C. (2001). Brush with death: a social history of lead poisoning. JHU Press.
In Brush with Death, social historian Christian Warren offers the first comprehensive history of lead poisoning in the United States. Focusing on lead paint and leaded gasoline, Warren distinguishes three primary modes of exposure – occupational, pediatric and environmental. This threefold perspective permits a nuanced exploration of the regulatory mechanisms, medical technologies, and epidemiological tools that arose in response to lead poisoning.