Although Flint's water crisis is a saga with continuing developments and no closing chapter in sight, Bridge Magazine sees a book-length story worth telling now.
The nearly five-year-old online publication has compiled its intensive coverage of the drama -- "one of the largest stories of our careers" -- into a 330-page paperback being released June 22. It's titled "Poison on Tap," with this subtitle: "How Government Failed Flint, and the Heroes Who Fought Back."
"It brings together our regular reporting into one complete and terrible package that we hope will help remind readers throughout America of what can happen when our institutions start breaking down," publisher Phil Power writes in a two page introduction, posted as a Bridge column Tuesday. He founded the nonprofit Center for Michigan, which launched Bridge in September 2011.
Its first book, edited by former Detroit Free Press reporter Bob Campbell and published by Mission Point Press of Traverse City, addresses these pubic policy questions, Powers writes:
- How could entire Flint neighborhoods suffer for months without relief the brown, fetid water that turned out to be poison, especially to little kids?
- How could it be that entire layers of government – local, regional, state and national – either failed to understand what was going on or, understanding it all too well, got away too long with systematically trying to cover up their mistakes?
- How could it be that politicians of all stripes converted a human and municipal crisis into a convenient punching bag for political gain?
The situation "boggles the mind," he continues, explaining:
The only way we could un-boggle our collective minds at Bridge was to make Flint one of the largest stories of our careers. We squinted our way through thousands of emails, trying to make sense of the story as it mutated and as nearly every participant tried to spin it to their advantage. . . .
The poisoning of Flint is a cautionary tale for our times – not just for Flint but for countless other communities throughout our land – a tale that questions the assumptions of the effectiveness of government, of a pinchpenny ideology that understood all too well the cost of everything and the value of nothing, and of a political system that insulates bureaucrats and office-holders from accountability.
In other words, the 34 chapters of "Poison on Tap" are an impassioned analysis of series failures, not a neutral-voice recitation of facts. Still, "the heroes who fought back" provide an uplifting balance.
Another Flint book was announced in April -- "Water's Perfect Memory," by Detroit writer Anna Clark. It will be published by Metropolitan Books, a division of Henry Holt.
That project is framed as "a canary-in-the-coal-mine tale of how the underfunding of cities across America imperils the lives if its residents." No publication date is give.
Bridge's version earns an advance shout from Marc Edwards, the Virginia Tech professor whose lab work helped expose health-endangering lead levels in Flint drinking water. "Bridge Magazine staff painstakingly documented one of the most significant cases of environmental injustice in U.S. history,” he's quoted as saying in a media release.
The $19.95 book will be available at bookstores statewide and at Amazon.
Bridge Magazine and Mission Point Press will donate $1 from every printed copy sold to the Flint Child Health & Development Fund of the Community Foundation of Greater Flint.
The publisher also offers an education guide and discussion booklet by Micheal Vickery, former professor of communications, environmental studies and public affairs at Alma College. It has case studies and discussion questions designed to let community groups consider local risks.