37ºF

EPA water expert speaks about Flint water crisis

Miguel Del Toral warned people about danger of lead in Flint's drinking water

FLINT, Mich. – He never testified, but you may have heard his name at the congressional hearings on the Flint water crisis.

Water expert Miguel Del Toral went above and beyond the call of duty to warn people about the danger of lead in Flint's drinking water.

Without Del Toral's warnings, it's possible the people of Flint might still be drinking contaminated water. He warned state and federal officials twice, and when nothing was done he leaked his findings to make sure the people of Flint would finally get help.

SPECIAL COVERAGE: Flint Water Crisis

Del Toral, a modest water expert at the Environmental Protection Agency, said he was just doing his job.

"I guess it's a bit upsetting to think that someone thinks I'm a hero because I did my job, you know, I get paid for this, you know. This is what you're supposed to do. You work for the public. You're a public servant," Del Toral said.

Del Toral's super power is knowing what chemicals cause and deter lead from leaching from pipes into the public's drinking water. He saw Flint was failing to use corrosion controls before anyone else, and he knew if it continued an entire American city could be poisoned.

"In the absence of treatment, I knew that those lead levels were going to continue to go up," Del Toral said.

Today, there are no shortages of people heaping praise on Del Toral.

Del Toral first warned Flint in February 2015, 11 months before a state of emergency was issued, that lead could be leaching into the city's drinking water. When he told the state that in an email, he was told Flint was using corrosion controls and there was nothing to worry about."

"The email that I received from the state seemed to relay that they had treatment in place," Del Toral said.

Del Toral kept testing and the lead numbers continued to go up. He confronted state officials in an April email and this time they admitted they were not using corrosion controls, but still insisted there was nothing to worry about. Del Toral was horrified.

"That was the real concern to me, that it was going to be a citywide problem," Del Toral said.

Del Toral wrote a draft report and leaked it to the public. Instead of acting on the warnings, officials forced Del Toral to back off, something that became a focus of congressional hearings.

A member of Congress read an email from Del Toral about life after issuing the warnings.

"It almost sounds like I'm to be stuck in a corner holding up a potted plant because of Flint. One misstep in 27-plus years here and people lose their minds," Rep. Elijah Cummings read.

But Del Toral's heroic memo made it to the media and local doctors. Questions were asked, samples were taken and finally, in October, Gov. Rick Snyder acknowledged a lead problem. Three months later, he would declare a state of emergency.

"Maybe we can someday get to a point where, you know, a public servant doing their job ain't so special," Del Toral said.

Del Toral has been nominated for awards inside and outside of work. He said the only thing he wants in return for his effort is for Flint to have safe drinking water again as soon as humanly possible.