Michigan arsenic map photo

Sampling done in Michigan from 1983 to 2003 shows where arsenic levels in groundwater are the highest. Arsenic levels are in micrograms per liter.Michigan Department of Environmental Quality

In the latest episode of “Reveal,” The Center for Investigative Reporting’s investigative radio show with PRX, we hear the story of Renee Thompson, who along with her husband and three children became mysteriously sick after moving into a new house in Ortonville, Michigan.

Our partners at Michigan Radio tell it like this: For three years, the family experienced chest pains, headaches, gastrointestinal bleeding and skin problems that went undiagnosed by a dozen doctors. It wasn’t until the 13th physician they visited thought about the possibility of heavy metal poisoning that they found the source of their illness: elevated levels of arsenic in their drinking water.

The Thompsons’ case is an outlier, but most people don’t realize that we often consume small amounts of arsenic every day. And new science has brought into question how much arsenic is actually safe to consume. Higher levels of arsenic in drinking water have been linked to various cancers, and even low levels of arsenic might be more harmful than scientists originally thought.

And as the Center for Public Integrity’s David Heath reports on “Reveal,” the government’s research showing the true effects of arsenic largely has been stymied by political roadblocks.

Michigan is one of several states with higher-than-average levels of arsenic in their drinking water, especially in the Thumb region. Last week, in collaboration with “Reveal” and the Center for Public Integrity, Michigan Radio aired a five-part series exploring how arsenic is affecting Michigan’s water and food supply. Learn more about the ways that residents have – and haven’t – dealt with high arsenic levels, as well as how to test and treat your own water.

To help engage local residents on the issue, Michigan Radio is hosting two events this week, part of their Issues & Ale series, to discuss arsenic contamination in the state’s drinking water and what to do about it. Ben Adair, an executive producer for “Reveal,” will join Michigan Radio’s Rebecca Williams to discuss her reporting, along with findings from CPI’s investigation for “Reveal.” We’ll also hear expert perspectives on the issue from James Clift of the Michigan Environmental Council and Chris Hoard of the U.S. Geological Survey.

Join us in Kalamazoo or Ypsilanti if you’re in the area. If you can’t make it, we’d still love to hear from you. Have you tested your water and found it positive for arsenic? What did you do? Get in touch and share your story: cgoins@cironline.org.

In the meantime, you also can subscribe to the “Reveal” podcast to stay up to date on our upcoming episodes.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Cole Goins is the director of community engagement for Reveal, where he cultivates partnerships that blend in-depth journalism and creative public engagement. He has built and supported distribution networks, spearheaded arts-based initiatives such as the Off/Page Project, led social media and audience strategy, and facilitated statewide media collaborations. He was a senior fellow in the 2015 USC Annenberg Health Journalism Fellowships, mentoring five journalists on approaches to community engagement. Previously, Goins was the engagement editor at the Center for Public Integrity, where he led audience development initiatives and multimedia features for award-winning investigative projects. He earned a degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he worked as music director for WXYC, the student-run radio station. He is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.