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Reporter on Flint water crisis finds lead at own home

Lindsey Smith and her daughter Layla
Adam Schingeck

For the last year, Lindsey Smith has been at the forefront of Michigan Radio’s in-depth reporting of the Flint water crisis. Now, the issue of lead contamination in the environment has dropped right on her doorstep.

In a recent appearance on Stateside, Michigan Radio’s West Michigan reporter revealed that her 18-month-old daughter tested positive for elevated lead levels in her blood. After getting a routine test around her birthday, the numbers came back with a rate of five micrograms per deciliter of blood.

“If your child tests at that level or above, that’s when you’d get notified,” said Smith. “Those kids that test five or above are in the highest 2.5% of children tested for lead in their blood in the country. So statistically it’s significant at that point.”  

The origin of the elevated lead levels remains a mystery. Despite living in an older neighborhood in Grand Rapids, her house was built in 2005, thus, eliminating the possibility of lead paint. She had her water tested, and the results were good. She also had her water service line checked and it is made out of copper.

So after this process of elimination, where did the lead come from? 

"My hunch is that it's in the soil," said Smith. "So I'm going to get my soil tested when the snow melts."

To be continued. 

The seats in the gym at Muskegon Heights High School were packed for a "unity" game Wednesday night.
Credit Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
The seats in the gym at Muskegon Heights High School were packed for a "unity" game Wednesday night.

Meanwhile, with all of the difficult news stories that Smith reports on, she managed to stumble upon an "amazing event" on Wednesday. She went to her first high school basketball game in a long time at Muskegon Heights Public School Academy where the boys team played their season finale against Kalamazoo Lakeside Academy.

On paper, maybe not a headline-making event, but the game received statewide attention after the school's original opponent, Shelby High School, refused to play the game in the wake of a Feb. 9 shooting that took place after a Muskegon Heights basketball game. The shooting, which did not involve anyone associated with the school and did not produce any life-threatening injuries, prompted Shelby to cancel. This left the Tigers in a difficult position to find a new opponent for Senior Night on short notice. Kalamazoo Lakeside, who had recently dealt with a mass shooting in their own city recently, accepted.

This prompted Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson to write a letter to the community asking people to pack the gym "to the rafters" to show their support for the team and the school. (Hilson joined Stateside to talk about the incident and the letter he wrote)

Hilson's letter must have helped, because the game was a big success, giving the Tiger seniors a proper sendoff for the final game of their high school careers.

"These two communities kind of used this opportunity to say, we're not going to let this violence define us," said Smith. "[There were] 2,000 people at this game, and everyone was in a good mood and nothing happened. It was really uplifting."

Listen to the full interview below to hear more about the challenge parents have with detecting lead in and around their homes. Smith also shared some of the interviews she conducted with some of the people who attended the "unity game" at Muskegon Heights.

Josh Hakala, a lifelong Michigander (East Lansing & Edwardsburg), comes to Michigan Radio after nearly two decades of working in a variety of fields within broadcasting and digital media.
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