More

Flint's massive water poisoning all started with an innocent-enough vote at city council.

The National Guard was called, a break-in happened, and Rick Snyder admits culpability.

The Flint City Council had no idea what was to come from its attempt to shave its budget in 2013.

Trying to peel some money away in the budget for other things, the city council in Flint, Michigan, set off a chain of events in March 2013 that had devastating effects.

The council voted 7-1 to pass a resolution to stop buying water from Detroit and join a new initiative piping in water directly from Lake Huron.


They weren't the only ones who approved of this plan, which was supposed to save the city $19 million over eight years. The plan was fine by the state of Michigan, and the city's emergency manager, Ed Kurtz, who signed off on it a month later.

Then Detroit notified Flint that it would cease selling water to them well before the new plan was set to take effect, which sent Flint scrambling to find a new source for water.

They eventually settled on the Flint River, despite prior reports saying it had the "most degraded water quality among the Saginaw River tributaries."

The river water that would corrode lead-infused pipes, poisoning a city. Image by Andrew Jameson/Wikimedia Commons.

Flint Mayor Dayne Walling flipped the switch that officially shut off the Detroit water supply to his city on April 25, 2014. In a celebratory statement that would later seem downright haunting, he said:

“Water is an absolute vital service that most everyone takes for granted. It’s a historic moment for the city of Flint to return to its roots and use our own river as our drinking water supply.”

However much money the switch was slated to save the city, it would end up costing Flint residents so much more.

A local mom sounded the alarm when she noticed lead levels spiking in her kids.

After a local mother, LeeAnne Walters, noticed her four children becoming very sick, she turned to her pediatrician. The doctor wrote a letter to the city of Flint warning that because one of the Walters' children has a compromised immune system, he couldn't safely use the city water. The city sent someone to test the water in the Walters' home in November 2014.

The EPA recommends lead levels in water for children to stay under 15 parts per billion (ppb) to avoid brain, blood, and kidney damage. In the Walters' home, lead levels were at 397 ppb. The official threshold for lead poisoning — or "action level" — occurs at 5 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dl). Walters' son Gavin had a blood lead level of 6.5 mcg/dl.

Walters contacted the mayor, who did next to nothing to address her problem. She then contacted Miguel Del Toral from the EPA, who got a civil engineer named Marc Edwards, who studies corrosive lead and water, to start looking at the case.

Edwards' team collected samples from hundreds of Flint water customers, and the results were astounding. When retested, the lead levels at the Walters residence had shot up to 13,000 ppb in nine months. Lead levels had similarly spiked in the other samples.

LaShanti Redmond (left), 10, and her sister Asharra Smith, 6, wait with their mother, Charlene Mitchell, of Flint, to get their blood tested for lead levels on Jan. 12, 2016. The Flint Community Schools, the Genesee County Health Department, and Molina Healthcare held a family fun night to get children ages 0-6 tested for lead levels in their blood. Image by Jake May/The Flint Journal-MLive.com via AP.

But where was the lead coming from?

The city's water infrastructure, like many cities', is quite old. The pipes contain lead, which is fine if the water is not corrosive — like the water from Detroit.

But when the city switched to the water from the Flint River, it failed to treat it to prevent corrosion, which set off a terrible chain of events.

Edwards was so horrified that he called for those responsible to be punished:

“If a landlord with no training in public health doesn’t inform a tenant of a lead hazard, they can and have been sent to jail. That’s how seriously society takes this issue. So what should be the fate of someone paid to do a specific job of protecting the public from this neurotoxin and they fail? If we’re going to throw a landlord in jail ... how can you not hold these guys accountable?”

Flint is now in a state of emergency, and Gov. Rick Snyder is in the hot seat about how much he knew and when.

Did Rick Snyder and other officials act as soon as they should have? Image by Rob Hall/Wikimedia Commons.

On Jan. 5, 2016, Snyder declared the city in a state of emergency. That day, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it would be investigating why it took so long for officials to act.

The dangerous levels in Walters' home were first discovered in November 2014, and subsequent concerns were dismissed until a pediatrician released a report outlining over 1,700 children's blood lead levels in September 2015.

Finally, on Jan. 12, 2016, Snyder called in the National Guard to help distribute emergency water. In a concerning turn of events, it was just announced that the City Hall office where water documents are kept was broken into over the recent holiday break.

Asked relentlessly during a recent press conference about whether he was culpable for the water crisis, Snyder admitted, "I have a degree of responsibility."

Those paying the price for all of this are the kids — and some adults, too.

Lead poisoning has disastrous long-term effects. Learning disabilities and other cognitive impairments are almost certain among a significant portion of the children poisoned, as lead poisoning affects brain volume, particularly in the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for decision-making and impulse control.

This is a collection of MRI scans from adults who were exposed to lead as children, showing the parts of the brain where the loss in mass occurred.

Image from the medical report "Decreased Brain Volume in Adults with Childhood Lead Exposure"/Wikimedia Commons.

Lead poisoning affects adults, too. Flint resident Michael Webber has gone blind in one eye since the water switched to the river source.

His doctor says high blood pressure resulted in a stroke in his eye and that normal function will never return. Lead poisoning results in high blood pressure, and Webber reports he always had normal blood pressure before the switch.

We can't go back in time to save Flint, but we can protect our own cities with this new knowledge.

We can donate to those making sure the citizens of Flint have enough water to survive. We can call for charges against those who were negligent enough to cause this crisis. But even if the officials responsible get punished to the full extent of the law — which is a real "if" — the damage is done.

Local and state decision-makers have a ton of power and responsibility over citizens' health, and they don't always make the right judgment calls. We can't just assume they always know what's best.

The only protection we have in the face of these errors and mismanagement is in each other, as citizens — by remaining engaged and in-the-know about our community, alerting each other when we discover health hazards, and keeping tabs on the decisions our leaders are making. The blame is fully with the decision-makers, but by the time citizens know how something went wrong, it's often too late.

Maybe today is the day we'll all look into where our city's water is coming from and how it's being treated.

We may prevent the next Flint.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
True

When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

What you look like in a selfie camera isn't really what you look like in real life.

We've all done it: You snap a selfie, look at it, say, "OMG is my nose swollen?" then try again from a different angle. "Wait, now my forehead looks weird. And what's up with my chin?" You keep trying various angles and distances, trying to get a picture that looks like how you remember yourself looking. Whether you finally land on one or not, you walk away from the experience wondering which photo actually looks like the "real" you.

I do this, even as a 40-something-year-old who is quite comfortable with the face I see in the mirror. So, it makes me cringe imagining a tween or teen, who likely take a lot more selfies than I do, questioning their facial features based on those snapshots. When I'm wondering why my facial features look weird in selfies it's because I know my face well enough to know that's not what it looks like. However, when a young person whose face is changing rapidly sees their facial features distorted in a photo, they may come to all kinds of wrong conclusions about what they actually look like.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
True

The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

Dan Fischer takes people's lost loved ones out surfing for "one last wave."

Dan Fischer understands grief. He also has some idea of how to cope with it—and how to help others through it as well.

Fischer has experienced tremendous loss in the past few years, losing both his father and his best friend. As a surfer, he's a believer in what he calls "the transformative power of the ocean." Originally from Montreal, Canada, Fischer has found healing riding the waves off Newport, Rhode Island, where he's lived for the past seven years.

Now he wants to share that healing power of the waves with others.

Keep Reading Show less
More

The airplane graveyard that 3 families call home is the subject of a stunning photo series.

From the skies to the ground, these airplanes continue to serve a purpose.

This article originally appeared on 09.18.15


What happens to airplanes after they're no longer fit to roam the skies?


An abandoned 747 rests in a Bangkok lot. Photo by Taylor Weidman/Getty Images.

Decommissioned planes are often stripped and sold for parts, with the remains finding a new home in what is sometimes referred to as an "airplane boneyard" or "graveyard." Around the world, these graveyards exist; they're made up of large, empty lots and tons of scrap metal.

Keep Reading Show less