By Dr. Brian R. Shmaefsky
One year after the Flint Water Crisis I was invited to participate in a water rights session at a conference hosted by the US Human Rights Network in Austin, Texas in 2015. The reason I was at the conference was to promote efforts by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to encourage scientists to shine a light on how science intersects with human rights, in the U.S. as well as in the context of international development. My plan was to sit at an information booth and share my stories about water quality projects I spearheaded in communities in Bangladesh, Colombia, and the Philippines. I did not expect to be thrown into conversations that made me reexamine how scientists use their knowledge as a public good.
Understanding Public Views and Sentiments About Science and Scientists<p>According to a <a href="https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2015/01/29/public-and-scientists-views-on-science-and-society/" target="_blank">2015 study by the Pew Research Center</a>, a random sample of 2,002 adult Americans perceive science as having positive impacts on peoples' lives. Americans also believe that government funding of science is worth the payoff provided by scientific knowledge and technological applications. But unfortunately, the benefits of science are not always equally distributed to all communities.</p><p>Dr. Robert Bullard, one of the most prominent environmental justice scholars, points out in his book<em> <a href="https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/book/10.2105/9780875530079" target="_blank">Environmental Health and Racial Equity in the United States: Building Environmentally Just, Sustainable, and Livable</a> </em>that many scientific developments for reducing pollution and improving health care do not always make their way into areas affected by discriminatory practices or poverty. Populations that are disproportionately affected by environmental injustices are predominantly communities of color, tribal communities, and low-income communities.</p><p>Historically, the benefits of science and technology have not been shared equally as is discussed in the 2016 Nature article <a href="https://www.nature.com/news/is-science-only-for-the-rich-1.20650" target="_blank"><em>Is science only for the rich?</em></a> A 2018 The Atlantic article <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/02/the-trump-administration-finds-that-environmental-racism-is-real/554315/" target="_blank"><em>Trump's EPA Concludes Environmental Racism Is Real</em></a> discusses that at times science has been used against environmental justice communities. In addition, the "Belmont Report", produced by the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research, <a href="https://www.hhs.gov/ohrp/sites/default/files/the-belmont-report-508c_FINAL.pdf" target="_blank">documents a long history</a> of unequal benefits of medical research.</p>
- 3 Reasons Why Plastic Pollution Is an Environmental Justice Issue ... ›
- Environmental Justice Activists Arrested Amid Growing Concerns ... ›
- Why Defending Indigenous Rights Is Integral to Fighting Climate ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Will Sarni
It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.
The Past Is No Longer a Guide to the Future<p>We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.<br></p><p>"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the U.S. are potentially using <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/115/9/2078" target="_blank">lead water service lines</a>. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.</p><p>One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by <a href="https://www.wateraid.org/us/" target="_blank">WaterAid</a> revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.</p><p>Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.</p>
Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.<p>These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.</p><p>We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).</p><p>We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.</p><p>We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.</p>
- Newark Water Filters Are Working, Tests Suggest - EcoWatch ›
- Newark's Lead Crisis Escalates - EcoWatch ›
Michigan prosecutors dropped all criminal charges against government officials involved in the Flint water crisis Thursday, citing concerns about the investigation they had inherited from the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) appointed by former Attorney General Bill Schuette, CNN reported.
By Wenonah Hauter
Five years ago this week, an emergency manager appointed by then-Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder made the devastating decision to save money by switching Flint's water supply over from Detroit's water system to the Flint River. Seen as a temporary fix, the new water supply was not properly treated. High levels of lead leached from the old pipes, poisoning a generation of Flint's children, and bacteria responsible for an outbreak of Legionnaires' Disease killed more than a dozen residents.
- Michael Moore: 10 Things They Won't Tell You About the Flint Water ... ›
- Legionnaire's Bacteria Found in Drinking Water at Nine Reopened Schools - EcoWatch ›
Two Michigan environmental regulators implicated in the Flint water crisis plead "no contest" in a bid to avoid felony charges. As part of their deal, they will also testify against others involved with the scandal, which contaminated the town of Flint, Michigan's drinking water with lead and resulted in 12 deaths from Legionnaires' Disease, The Huffington Post reported Thursday.
International Peace Day is Sept. 21. Mekela Panditharatne, attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, submitted the following op-ed to EcoWatch in commemoration.
In drought-ravaged East Africa, the cracks in the plains echo the fault lines splitting tribes.
Across the globe, the devastation of deadly brawls is being exacerbated by tensions over access to water. Water crises, often worsened by governance failures, can portend warning signs for instability and conflict. This year, the World Resources Institute cautioned that water stress is growing globally, "with 33 countries projected to face extremely high stress in 2040." The effects of such water stress span the gamut from civil unrest to open warfare.
Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon will be the highest ranking official to go to trial so far as a result of an investigation into the Flint water crisis, The Associated Press reported Monday.
Judge David Goggins ruled Monday there was probable cause for Lyon to stand trial for involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of Robert Skidmore and John Snyder that prosecutors say were due to a Legionnaires' disease outbreak that Lyon was aware of a year before he alerted Michigan's governor, Michigan Live reported. Lyons is also charged with misconduct in office.
A report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) internal watchdog organization published Thursday argued that the EPA needed to step up its monitoring of state drinking water in the aftermath of the Flint, Michigan water crisis, CBS reported.
By Fiona E. McNeill
The Michigan community of Flint has become a byword for lead poisoning. Elon Musk recently entered the fray. He tweeted a promise to pay to fix the water in any house in Flint that had water contamination above acceptable levels set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
When Detroit-area native Ali Rose VanOverBeke came back home in 2016 to volunteer with the Red Cross at the height of the Flint, Michigan water crisis, she probably didn't expect to get a business idea with the potential to change both her and Flint's future.
By Cedric Taylor
On April 6, with little warning, the state of Michigan closed water point of distribution (POD) centers that have provided residents in Flint for the past three years with bottled water to drink, cook and bathe. This move was based on analysis showing that the city's water quality had tested below action levels defined in federal drinking water regulations for nearly two years.
The state's decision to close the PODs signals that with respect to water quality, Flint's water crisis is over. But for thousands of Flint residents, the trauma it inflicted persists.
The prize, whose winners were announced Monday, was established by San Francisco philanthropists Richard and Rhoda Goldman in 1989. It is the largest award in the world for environmental activism.