On the same day prosecutors in Michigan announced criminal indictments of three state and local officials for their role in the contamination of the Flint, Mich., water supply, a whistleblower who brought the case to light was awarded the annual Ridenhour Prize for Truth Telling.
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician at Hurley Children’s Hospital and an assistant professor of medicine at Michigan State University, received the award at a National Press Club luncheon, acknowledging the whistleblowing role played by a staffer at the Environmental Protection Agency’s Chicago regional office, Miguel del Torral.
Hanna-Attisha, having heard alarms sounded about Flint by Virginia Tech civil engineering professor Marc Edwards, tried to trace government blood tests of Flint residents but ran into obstacles. So she assembled a team to analyze the data and published results in a medical journal, which prompted the state to “dismiss and ridicule” her.
Wednesday’s indictments, she said, are of people “whose job it was to make sure that when you turn on the tap the water is safe.” Flint is now in its third year of unsafe water, she added. “When democracy is usurped,” she said, referring to the state-imposed emergency manager who switched Flint’s water supply, “Where do we go?”
Del Torral, she said, was also “dismissed and ridiculed” after he wrote a June 2015 memo warning of water contamination in three Flint homes.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy disputed allegations that del Torral was gagged or subjected to retaliation, saying that his memo, though narrow, was immediately made public.
Ridenhour Prizes, named for a journalist who helped expose the 1968 My Lai massacre by U.S. soldiers in Vietnam, are awarded for journalism, books, documentaries and “courage” in exposing societal corruption and come with a $10,000 stipend. Hanna-Attisha has donated her award’s cash to her projects to aid Flint victims.
The prizes are sponsored by the Nation Institute, the Fertel Foundation and the Stewart R. Mott Foundation. The ceremony was presided over by Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight.