• Since current one won’t, next president must stress water safety for U.S.
By Victor Thorn —
President Barack Hussein Obama recently submitted a $4.1 trillion budget to Congress, including $19 billion to protect Americans from cybersecurity threats, yet not a penny of that was earmarked to fix our nation’s dangerous drinking water supplies.
On February 4, the Washington Post’s Yanan Wang reported, “Data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that over 40% of states that reported lead test results in 2014 have higher rates of lead poisoning among children than Flint.”
And that’s not all. Fracking has created a slew of water contamination issues in Pennsylvania, and cloud-seeding west of the Rocky Mountains is forcing ranchers to abandon their livelihood.
In 2014, two United States cities, Toledo, Ohio and Charleston, West Virginia, were compelled to shut down their entire water supply systems due to unregulated toxins and chemical spills. Not only were hundreds of residents rushed to local hospitals, but wildlife also faced grave dangers.
Around this same time, 82,000 tons of noxious coal ash, containing arsenic, were released from a retired Duke Energy power plant into the Dan River, which supplies drinking water to communities in both Virginia and North Carolina. Local residents were also warned not to swim or eat fish from this body of water.
More recently, in early February, broken pipes and an aging water system in St. Joseph, Louisiana, turned tap water an unhealthy brownish-yellow color.
The lead contamination problem is not an isolated incident. Throughout the nation, more than 10 million lead water pipes still remain in place in America’s infrastructure despite a congressional ban on them 30 years ago.
On February 11, AMERICAN FREE PRESS interviewed Henry L. Henderson, Midwest program director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. He stressed: “A scarcity of safe and healthy water is one of the greatest threats today on the global stage. Western states, especially California, have been in the long grip of drought that threatens their economy, quality of life, and food production.”
Henderson addressed another topic: “The Chicago River overflows all the time, bringing with it E. coli that’s a danger to public safety. Or rainwater gets mixed with raw sewage and flows into rivers or backs up into basements, thus depleting water quality. Similarly, take a look at how pollution and poison algae from Lake Erie wash downstream to neighboring communities.”
J. Carl Ganter of Circle of Blue, a journalism research organization that focuses on the world’s resource crises, told AFP on February 9: “The central U.S. is concerned about accessing groundwater from ancient aquifers in order to water their crops. In California, it was reported on April 1, 2015 that their snow pack was less than 6% of normal. Flint, Michigan taught us all a lesson, but what happens the day after when the world’s attention turns to something else?”
Travesty in Flint
Flint has become ground zero for water rights activists. On February 11, AFP spoke with Curt Guyette, an American Civil Liberties Union investigative reporter who originally broke this story by publishing Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) memos obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.
Guyette told AFP: “After water samples were analyzed by Virginia Tech University, they determined that lead levels in Flint were five times what is considered risky and 40% higher than what’s accepted by government standards. No doubt this water was too dangerous to drink.”
Guyette then explained the myopic incompetence behind this fiasco.
“Flint faced a financial crisis,” he said. “So a single emergency manager made a decision to save $5 million by switching from Detroit’s water system to the Flint River while new pipelines were being built. Because they weren’t prepared for the complexities of such a move, it’s going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars to fix their infrastructure and cover litigation costs. What we saw was a totally manmade disaster which turned into a massive public health crisis.”
When asked about ongoing risks, Guyette gave a frightening response: “Lead is a potent toxin that’s dangerous to children and pregnant mothers. It causes lower IQs and irreversible behavioral and learning problems. Lead is also dangerous to every organ in our bodies, especially the central nervous system. The harmful impact of this substance can be passed from generation to generation. Thus, it’s truly a horror to those exposed.”
On February 11, James Clift of the Michigan Environmental Council spoke with AFP. He lamented: “Flint isn’t the only city to stop doing corrosion control. Obviously, neglecting these problems isn’t a wise move.”
Regrettably, as Guyette pointed out, government officials were aware of risks long before Flint’s residents.
“The EPA began raising concerns by February 2015,” Guyette said, “but it was only brought to everyone’s attention six months later. The delay arose due to Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality denying that a problem existed. Basically, Michigan officials found a loophole in the law and exploited it.”
Guyette then reinforced the need for vigilance. “None of us would be talking about this issue if it weren’t for Flint’s residents banding together and finding out what was in their water. There was a breakdown of the whole system at every level of government: local, state, and federal. The government tried to keep this scandal covered up, but it was citizens who demanded the truth.”
Iowa vs. Big Ag
Water woes can extend back decades, as a worrisome situation in Iowa illustrates. During a February 9 AFP interview, Bruce Bomier, chairman of the Environmental Resource Council, offered these insights.
“During WWII, a groundbreaking way of producing nitrogen was developed in Muscle Shoals, Alabama,” he said. “Military personnel didn’t want to abandon this technology, so after the war they gave nitrogen to farmers in order to fertilize their crops. Food production exploded, and soon the U.S. was shipping products all over the world.”
Problems arose, though, as Bomier described.
“Farmers in Iowa saturated their fields with nitrogen,” he said. “But when it rained, nitrogen flooded into streams, aquifers, and lakes. Not surprisingly, these chemicals were unhealthy to pregnant women, therefore causing a rise in infant mortality rates. It should also be mentioned that huge dead zones now exist in the Mississippi River, ones in which fish are dying.”
Enter William G. Stowe, CEO and general manager for the public utility Des Moines Water Works, who spoke with AFP on February 11. Stowe explained why he has filed a lawsuit: “Since local government officials wouldn’t let anyone fix this problem I filed a civil suit. Industrial farming is a multibillion-dollar business, and they funnel donations to politicians who then do their bidding.”
Stowe continued: “Iowa has 22 million acres of row crops. Their corn and soybeans require plenty of fertilizer, especially nitrogen. But when water upstream is affected by chemicals, it drives what happens to water quality downstream. The drinking water for half a million central Iowans has now become a public health risk due to heavy pollution from nitrate and industrialized farming.”
Expanding on this notion, Stowe related to AFP: “Nitrogen can create significant problems for children. It’s called blue baby syndrome. Children are asphyxiated from not having enough oxygen in their bloodstream.”
Stowe elaborated on why he was unwilling to remain idle.
“The farm lobby kept ignoring our warnings, so last year we filed a lawsuit stating that they were violating the Clean Water Act under federal law,” he said. “Our case will be heard this August in federal court.”
When questioned about his expectations, Stowe replied: “Flint-type circumstances can be avoided in Iowa. There are huge consequences when an entire system breaks down, and it’s very difficult to correct.”
“The agriculture industry gets upset when anyone starts talking about limiting them or their profits,” he said. “Bill Stowe is being attacked by Big Ag because of his lawsuit. But we don’t need another Flint, or its bureaucratic inertia. They were incredibly idiotic at all levels of government. The real disease is civics and bad laws that extend like spider webs. When you clean up the civics, the system can work.”
The hurdles facing Americans who cherish clean, healthy water are many: pollution, century-old pipes and delivery systems, fertilizers, contaminated runoff from parking lots and freeways, lawn pesticides, hazardous mining sites, sewage, animal waste, and urban growth. Fortunately, bright spots do exist.
Bruce Bomier told AFP: “New York State has put together a very firm template and saved their entire water system. Today, they have clean water in New York City, and they’re not running out.”
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Bomier added another example. “Arizonans placed tough restrictions on logging organizations and the copper industry. Their water is now safe, but it required firm, clear, understandable rules, as well as the enforcement of them.”
James Clift offered these suggestions to AFP readers: “How well do they know the water systems leading into their homes, and how capable are they of tracking problems? They should attend local municipal meetings and let supervisors know that they want to be notified immediately when situations arise. Further, board members need to start designing long-term replacements for lead pipes at the first opportunity.”
Summarizing all these views, Carl Ganter asked an extremely poignant question during his AFP interview. “How much are we willing to invest in water, something that we’re unable to live without?”
Victor Thorn is a hard-hitting researcher, journalist and author of over 50 books.