By Emily Wang
Though seemingly a local issue, the devastating effects of Flint’s contaminated water revealed a widespread epidemic that many had not even come to recognize. After the federal emergency in Flint, Michigan, in which the city’s contaminated drinking water caused many children to suffer from lead poisoning, the safety of water has become a national concern.
In Flint, the source of the drinking water was changed from the Detroit water system to the polluted Flint River in order to reduce costs. Unfortunately, the already contaminated river water ran through lead pipes, causing severe lead contamination in the water for those without water filters-- namely the lower-income population.
This dangerous water not only caused health problems for the low-income community, but it also infected local schools’ drinking water. This issue is also prevalent in many schools nationwide: dangerous lead levels have been reported in schools in Ithaca and Binghamton, N.Y., and in Howell, Mich. Due to poor school water infrastructure and lack of funds to further examine the detrimental effects of aging water delivery systems, more and more children are becoming diagnosed with lead poisoning. However, Flint only comprises a small piece in the larger puzzle of dangerous drinking water; research indicates that there are roughly 3,000 locations in the United States in which the amount of lead in the water was more than double that of Flint’s.
Lead poisoning is especially risky when it comes to children, as their bodies are still growing; even in small doses, it can greatly affect organs such as the brain, kidneys, and nervous system, which in turn affects hearing, brain development, attention span, and behavioral mannerisms. However, it is not just water that contains lead-- in fact, the main source of lead poisoning for children does not come from water, but from paint. Even though it was banned in 1978, lead-based paint is currently being used in about ten million homes nationally. Oftentimes, children may accidentally get chips of this toxic pain in their mouths, making them even more prone to lead poisoning.
It will take about an estimated $542 billion to help schools reach the health, educational, and safety requirements. Because the problem of aging water infrastructure occurs in less-funded school districts, and these schools do not have the budget to actually fix the system, this resulting cycle of poverty will only cause endless devastation to its helpless victims. The lack of federal funding for public schools’ infrastructure forces them to turn to the state and local level for help, but many states do not provide funding mechanisms, limiting schools’ options even more. If this issue cannot be resolved soon, analysts predict that in a few decades, this widespread contamination of water will affect almost people of all socioeconomic statuses.
Fortunately, the situation in Flint is improving: on March 17, 2017, the EPA awarded Flint $100 million to upgrade their drinking water infrastructure, and roughly two weeks later, a federal judge approved a $97 million settlement that allowed Flint to replace their lead or galvanized steel water lines.
Even though financial aid seems to be capable of allowing recovery from the effects of the lead problem, it does not account for or completely resolve the reason for why the problem existed in the first place. In fact, simply providing funding is like sticking a bandaid on a massively bleeding wound-- it cannot heal the injury because it does not address the reason for the wound, and is, at most, a temporary solution; the root of this issue lies within the discriminatory and neglectful manner in which society treats its poorer inhabitants. Health threats that occur in lower-income communities and communities of color often take longer to be acknowledged, and take even longer to fix. Take, for example, Porter Ranch, California, a city which suffered from a massive gas leak in 2015 that caused severe headaches and nosebleeds for many of its citizens, especially schoolchildren. Compared to the predominantly white Porter Ranch, the public officials in the predominantly black Flint not only took a lot longer to respond to concerns of local citizens, but even at first tried to dismiss the pleas of Flint’s citizens to fix the deadly water crisis. As such, it is important to first acknowledge our mistreatment of lower-income populations and strive to satisfy their needs efficiently and effectively.
Although change is slowly happening, this water crisis reveals that as a society, we must recognize and attempt to remediate the various issues that plague less fortunate communities. Our systematic neglect of the low-income areas is not only morally wrong, but also leads to more dilemmas in the future, as revealed through this water crisis.
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