Toxic Water Isn't Just in Flint

One of the biggest stories this week has been the contamination of the drinking water in Flint, MI. In an effort to save money, the city decided to stop getting it's water from Detroit, and started routing it from other sources. Oh. And they quit treating the water with anti-corroding agents, which caused the new water to leech lead out of the cities pipes, poisoning tens of thousands of people. One pediatrician saw that lead exposure in children doubled after this stroke of fiscal brilliance.

What's happening in Flint is horrible and tragic, but it's by no means an isolated incident. The big difference between Flint and a number of other cities (or sites that used to be cities prior to something similar happening) is that Flint is getting media coverage. Maybe it's because it's the birthplace of documentarian and kindly grandma lookalike, Michael Moore. Maybe it's because the local government that pulled this bullshit doesn't have enough power to influence the media. Either way, the situation is anything but unique.

If we're looking at the health and safety of the American people in modern history, Picher, Oklahoma stands as a good example. The federal government took the land from the American Indians and began mining it straight away. More than half of the lead and zinc used in World War I came from the area. Then they left all of the contaminants above ground, filled the mines with water, and it all seeped into the drinking water for the town. Nothing was done by the EPA until around the year 2000, when it was way too late. The community of Picher is now a forgotten footnote in Oklahoma's history. Finally declared unfit for human population in 2006, it no longer exists. But, hey. They created a lot of mining jobs. Oh, and the native population was given their land back. I guess it's their problem now.

The Love Canal is something I've written about in the past. The canal is named after William T. Love, an entrepreneur who envisioned the canal as a way to connect the communities that surrounded Niagra Falls. His idea ultimately failed, but don't fret. The city of Niagra bought the canal for one dollar in 1920, and had big plans for the site. Those plans mostly included filling the site with more than 21,000 tons of toxic waste. The Hooker Chemical Company acquired the rights to fill the site with all of their corrosive bullshit, and the joke practically writes itself. When you pay a dollar to let a Hooker pump it's toxins into your Love Canal, you wind up with a health risk that lasts generations. As long ago as 1920 was, the site is still unusable by anyone who wants to keep from growing a face that looks like over-microwaved nachos.

Another thing that the unmitigated clusterfuck in Flint brought to light is private water rights. Chemical and industrial companies can buy the rights to water supplies that feed into your drinking water. What that means is that they can use an entire water supply to wash the dick-growing-behind-your-knee chemicals off of their factory floor, wash it back into the water supply of an unsuspecting populous, and have no culpability. You are drinking their water, after all.

The reality is that the EPA has almost no oversight. They get to play this complex shell game, shifting and burying information as they please, only responding to a disaster after the public outcry becomes deafening. They let local governments deal with the water supplies of their constituents. I'm normally a supporter of local governments handling their own affairs, and doing what's best for the locals. But clean water and environmental preservation seems to be an area in which local officials have proven inept time and time again. If a mayoral candidate can promise job growth and lower taxes at the expense of the environment, then their seat is practically guaranteed. Who cares if they wind up wit nothing more than a population of gilled mutants, who are nothing more than the intellectual human equivalent of a gas station taquito to govern? It's all about the immediate. And that's what's happening in Flint. Budgetary concerns grossly overwhelmed common sense.

The thing about corporations and governments using their considerable swing to toxify populated areas, is that the results are far from temporary. They make giant chunks of the country uninhabitable. You don't have to be a Whole Foods shopping, gluten-free, sandal wearing, dirt wrenching, unshaven, super vegan, hippie to realize that these are incidents that shouldn't happen here. There should be no American Chernobyl, but we have these sites all over the country. If you don't believe me, Google 'superfund sites near me' and then try to drink some tap water. It won't be easy. Maybe we can try to use that to raise awareness for a disease. We could have 'The Tap Water Challenge' to bring insomnia or agoraphobia to light. Otherwise, there's no reason to trust the water that comes out of your sink.

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