Who Makes Policy Campaign 2016 Edition

How Flint, Michigan Opened the Floodgates on Water Safety

National outrage erupted in the wake of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and in turn sparked a serious debate in policy regarding water safety in the United States. This crisis grabbed the attention of the nation as it became clear state employees neglected their responsibility to provide safe, drinkable water to Flint residents causing serious health hazards. Flint is a largely African American, low-income residential area, which also raises issues of racial and economic justice. The situation in Flint has had a profound impact on policy regarding water safety, as an important question entered political debate: Is this crisis isolated to Flint, Michigan?

It turns out, the crisis extends beyond just Flint. Flint’s crisis occurred due to  flawed testing methods to make lead levels appear far lower than reality. This sparked a debate on whether states are properly testing and regulating water safety standards. This policy issue is of the utmost importance in light of government figures that show at least 18 million Americans drink tap water from systems that have violated federal rules for lead safety. These figures reflect states across the country, and government officials are being forced to respond. For example, as New York City schools begin the new year, experts investigated how its schools are testing its lead levels. They found that current testing methods run the risk of reporting lead levels lower than what they really are. New York City schools have responded by adjusting water testing procedures moving forward. Currently this week, the Senate is weighing in on a $9 billion dollar bill to authorize spending on the nation’s water infrastructure.  Nation wide measures are needed to both address communities already afflicted with highly poisoned water, and prevent this water crisis from expanding its reach even more so across the country. This bill is receiving a great deal of bipartisan support in the Senate, with cries for a more modest bill from the House.

Moving Forward… I came across an interest worthy op-ed piece on how inadequately we seem to address breaches in environmental safety, which is a violation of human rights as citizens’ health and lives can be put at risk due to negligence. As seen in Flint when several state employees were charged and arrested, we resort to criminal law; however, this remains ineffective as, “Prosecutorial responses fill the void left when health and safety regulations succumb to corporate and political pressure.” We blame the “little people” who carry out the injustices, but we fail to point the fingers at the industry and finance leaders pulling the strings. An easy fix for these situation is to divert blame away from a corrupt system that encourages greed and negligence, and instead holds a few individuals responsible. Environmental issues like water safety are a systematic issue that demand systematic change and punishment.

Leave a Reply