water pollution

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Brooke Hall has lived in the Parkway Mobile Home Park most of her life. She’s never really liked the taste of the water that comes from the park’s wells, but she didn’t think it could be dangerous until she was in the hospital giving birth to her son.

“Doctors and nurses told me I needed to stop breastfeeding while they did blood work and tested for lead because they were afraid that, because I was drinking the water, that it would be passed through to him,” she says.

A sample of an Oklahoma prison's drinking water had more than 12 times the allowable amount of lead when it was tested last year - an amount so high that officials question whether it could really be that bad or if the test could have been misleading.

Residents in Flint, Mich., are still living in a state of emergency, waiting for answers about the safety of their water.

After almost two years of bad drinking water, it can be hard for them to trust researchers and officials – except for a group of independent researchers from Virginia Tech who exposed the problem last summer.

"So we trust them. We don't trust nobody else," says Bishop Bernadel Jefferson, a resident of Flint.

At Southwest Baltimore Charter School, preparing lunch takes a few extra steps.

"We don't use the water from the building for cooking, not at all," say cafeteria worker LaShawn Thompson, shaking her head.

Her colleague, Christine Fraction, points to a large water bottle sitting on the counter of a stainless steel sink.

"We having greens or something like that, we having vegetables, we'll just turn it over into the pan and then put it on the stove," she says.

Attorneys representing seven families who've been affected by lead-poisoned water in Flint, Mich., filed a lawsuit Monday that cites federal environmental laws and seeks class-action status for what they call wide-reaching negligence.

Attorney Hunter Shkolnik says the court papers were filed Monday morning, and that the suit eventually could include the estimated 8,000 young people who may have been exposed to lead-tinged water in Flint. The suit cites the Safe Drinking Water Act and other federal laws, Shkolnik says.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Oklahoma has hundreds of abandoned oil and gas wells, the byproduct of a century of petroleum production. Left unrepaired, many of these wells can endanger people and the environment. The state has a fund to plug abandoned wells, but some of that money has been diverted due to budget cuts.

Jack Romine discovered natural gas without spending a dime on exploration, drilling or production.

A bright red tablecloth adds a pop of color to Ashara Manns' kitchen at her home in Flint, Mich.

The substitute teacher is at the stove, where she pours two bottles of water into a stockpot before dumping in big bags of mixed greens.

"Normally, I would rinse these with the running water, so hopefully they're still safe," Manns says.

Flint residents have been told not to drink or cook with the city's lead-tainted tap water, so Manns and her husband, Bennie, rely on bottled water to prepare their meals.

In Flint, Mich., government officials allowed water from the Flint River to corrode the city's pipes, leaching lead and other toxins into the tap water. The damaged pipes continue to contaminate the water, and it could take months — or years — to repair and rebuild the water system.

It could take even longer to rebuild something more abstract: trust, between citizens and their government.

Roxanne Adair, a vendor at the local farmers market, says this goes deeper than just the water.

The problems with high lead levels in Flint, Mich.'s water started in April 2014, when the city switched water sources and began drawing its supply from the Flint River. The new water was harder, and government officials allowed it to corrode the city's pipes, leaching lead and other toxins into the tap water.

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