According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency , environmental justice refers to
the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.
Although the EPA’s objective is intended for all communities and persons across America to receive the same benefits, the environmental quality of resources among some neighborhoods have been significantly unequal to their counterparts.
In 2014, the city of Flint, Mich., switched its water supply from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department of Detroit River and Lake Huron to the Karegnondi Water Authority of Flint River. The Initial switch was to save money because Flint was on the brink of financial collapse.
According to the U.S Census Bureau, around 40 percent of people in Flint live in poverty. Moreover, Nation Public Radio explained that according to City Council meeting minutes, the option to switch the water supply was projected to save the city $200 million over 25 years.
On April 25, 2014, the new water source started to fill the pipelines of thousands of homes, schools and hospitals around the area. Immediately, people began to express their concerns about the water quality and contamination of chemicals in their water supply. However, city officials said they were uncertain about the issue and continued to ignore lead seepage in the pipelines of people’s homes.
The story of Lee Anne Walters would then become a reality for most people living in Flint. A study tested by Virginia Tech researchers discovered the lead levels in Walters’ home reached an astounding 13,200 ppb. This number is more than twice the amount at which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calls water “hazardous waste.”
The shocking story of Lee Anne Walters caused a massive public health crisis and prompted President Obama to respond and to declare a federal state of emergency.
Most recently, Senate Democrats such a Ben Cardin and Charles E. Schumer have responded to the issue and sponsored the True LEADership Act of 2016. This act is also called the Testing, Removal, and Updated Evaluations of Lead Everywhere in America for Dramatic Enhancements that Restore Safety to Homes, Infrastructure, and Pipes Act of 2016. This plan recommits the federal government to a critical role in water infrastructure investment, lead remediation and the strong drinking water protections provided by the EPA.
Incidents like the Flint, Mich., crisis underscore the harmful results when equal water infrastructure is not made a priority and officials ignore the concerns and the safety of others.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and has filed criminal charges against former state employees and city officials in Flint. All are charged with misconduct in office, conspiracy, willful neglect of duty, and tampering with evidence, for allegedly requesting water tests that did not show elevated lead.
“Clean water that’s free of lead should be a right in the United States, not a privilege. The crises in Michigan, Ohio, New York, and around the country need to be a wake-up call to Congress to act,” said Senator Schumer.
By Ellen Callahan