Michigan woman wins environmental award for Flint water activism

File photo by Molly Riley/UPI

April 23 (UPI) — The Goldman Environmental Foundation on Monday announced this year’s winners of its top prize — including a woman who helped her community during the Flint, Mich., water crisis two years ago.

LeeAnne Walters led Flint residents to test their tap water amid tests that indicated lead levels that surpassed the Environmental Protection Agency’s safety standards, the group said.

Her persistence preceded the government’s action to clean up the water system.

City officials switched Flint’s water supply in April 2014 from treated Lake Huron water to raw water from the Flint River. Years of use caused lead to contaminate the pipes, poisoning thousands over a 17-month period.

Michigan plans to spend $87 million to replace 18,000 contaminated pipes in Flint by January 2020.

Makoma Lekalakala and Liz McDaid also won the award for forming a broad coalition to stop a secret nuclear deal between the South African government and Russia. The High Court ruled last year a $76 billion nuclear power project there was unconstitutional.

Philippines activist Manny Colonzo was also named a winner, for leaing a crusade against lead exposure. He campaigned to persuade the Philippine government to enact a national ban on production, use and sale of lead paint. He also led development of a program to ensure the paint was certified as lead-safe. As of 2017, 85 percent of the paint market in Phllippines had been certified lead safe.

Other prize winners in Vietnam, France, and Colombia’s advocacy work ranged from sustainable energy, to marine life, to stopping illegal gold mining.

Khanh Nguy Thi, of Vietnam, won the prize for using scientific research and engaging state agencies to reduce coal dependency and advocate for more environmentally-friendly energy for the future.

In France, Claire Nouvian ran a data-driven campaign to stop destructive fishing practice of deep-sea bottom trawling and successfully pressured a giant French supermarket to change its practices. Her work alongside other advocates led to a European Union-wide ban on deep-sea bottom trawling.

Winner Francia Marquez, of Columbia, organized women of La Toma to stop illegal gold mining on their ancestral land. She spearheaded a 10-day, 350-mile march of 80 women to the nation’s capital, which resulted in the removal of illegal miners from her community.


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