March 15, 2020

Five years ago, lead seeped into the tap water in Flint, Michigan, while state and local officials said everything was fine. Now, the same doctor who proved something was wrong is taking the first comprehensive look at the thousands of kids exposed to lead in Flint.

You may remember the pictures from the water crisis five years ago in Flint, Michigan. Hundreds of angry residents holding up bottles of rust-colored water and demanding answers. Months of protests were waved off by officials who denied anything was wrong. The turning point came when a local pediatrician found conclusive proof that the children of Flint were being exposed to high levels of lead in their water and prompted the state to declare an emergency. Now, that same doctor is working to solve a mystery that still worries parents in Flint: What lasting damage did the water do to their kids? Tonight, you will hear her initial findings which she says are worse than she feared.  But we begin with the legacy of Flint's water crisis.

Once a week, hundreds of cars line up for bottled water at the Greater Holy Temple Church of God in Flint.

Sandra Jones is in command. She is a pastor's wife with the voice of a four-star general. Jones keeps the cars moving and the water coming. Each family is allowed four cases of water. On this day, they gave away 36,000 bottles.

haryn Alfonsi: It just strikes me. It's been five years and you're still doing this.

Sandra Jones: Five years. And-- and the thing about it is it's not lightening up. I could see it if it was lightening up. But it isn't.

It is not. The state stopped giving away bottled water two years ago because it said the water is safe. Sandra Jones relies on donations of water.

Sharyn Alfonsi: What's it been like?

Larry Marshall: It's been kinda hard…

Larry Marshall was second in line. The widowed father of four got here at 5 a.m. He's been waiting five hours for water.

Larry Marshall: Water should be a basic necessity that -- we shouldn't have to wait or stand in line for, you know. This is not a third world country. But we're living like one.

Marshall, like many in Flint, still refuses to drink tap water.

Sharyn Alfonsi: And if they come to you the city or the state and they say, "You're drinking water's safe. Are you gonna believe them?

Larry Marshall: No. They lie so much and we know they lie, and I-- when they say something, it's like-- talking to the wind, you know. I don't believe nothing they say. None of the politicians, none of them.

Flint, once a prosperous hub of the American auto industry was nearly bankrupt back in 2014. Officials hoped to save money by switching the city water source from the Great Lakes to the Flint River.

Almost immediately, residents began noticing something wasn't right. The water was rust colored and many people had rashes.

But Michigan's department of environmental quality and the city insisted the water in Flint is safe. Later, a state investigation found those officials hid the fact that the river water was not treated with chemicals that would prevent the pipes from corroding. So, for months the water ate away at Flint's old pipes, releasing lead into residents' tap water.

The complete 60 Minutes segment and article can be accessed here.