America’s lead problem doesn’t stop with Flint

10/17/2019

Colleen Hammond | Opinions Editor

As a resident of Michigan, it was a devastating and terrifying shock to learn that a city just 45 minutes north of me had been poisoned by their own drinking water.

After the Flint Water Crisis made headlines in 2015, the nation felt an overwhelming sense of outrage. It seemed impossible that an American city of nearly 100,000 people, in a state surrounded by fresh water, could find themselves without a drop to drink.

However, there are many misconceptions about how this tragedy occured.

In April 2014, Flint switched its water supply from the Detroit River to the Flint River. Although the Flint River is notoriously polluted, the lead did not come from the new water supply. Instead, the error occurred in the water treatment process. Because Flint did not properly treat its water, it corroded the city’s pipes, most of which contained lead.

To an untrained ear, lead pipes may sound like a deadly invention. Despite the current awareness of the dangers of lead, this public health concern was not addressed on a mass scale until the second half of the 20th century. By this time, the infrastructure for most industrialized cities like Detroit, New York City, Flint, Boston and even Pittsburgh was already completed and included lead pipes.

Despite the removal of lead paint and gasoline from daily life in the 1960s and 70s, legislation banning lead pipes in new construction did not arrive until 1991. This 30-year delay has proved detrimental to communities throughout the country.

It has been nearly six years since this crisis began, and most Flint citizens are still unable to use the water in their homes for drinking, cooking or bathing because the toxic lead pipes have not been replaced, and it does not look like they will be fixed any time soon.

To make matters worse, lead pipes disproportionately affect poor communities. Because those areas lack public funding for major infrastructure renovations, they are typically left with deadly lead pipes until the areas are gentrified. By then, low income households cannot afford to stay in the area and leave for other poor communities.

This shows a detrimental disrespect for the poor of this country. Clean drinking water is a right to every person. In a country as developed and wealthy as the United States, citizens should never have to wonder if their drinking water is poisonous. It is unacceptable for the government to ignore the lead pipe problem just because it more heavily affects low-income areas.

Unfortunately, the turmoils of Flint are not an isolated incident.

It is estimated that nearly 10 million homes in America have lead pipes sourcing their water. This includes Pittsburgh homes.

Although the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority report that there is no lead in Pittsburgh’s drinking water, they are still facing a constant struggle to replace lead pipes before it begins leaching into the water supply.

As is the case in Flint, outdated lead pipes plague low income areas in Pittsburgh. Sadly, this trend remains true across the entire nation.

Low-income citizens’ needs and safety are being ignored for the sake of federal and state budgets. By refusing or delaying the replacement of lead pipes, lawmakers are making it very clear that they do not value the health and safety of those in poverty. Access to clean water is granted as a fundamental human right by the United Nations. It is astounding that one of the largest and most developed countries in the U.N. cannot be bothered to provide clean, lead-free water to its citizens.

Day by day, lead pipes continue to age and become more and more dangerous to civilians.

While Flint was a horrific accident, it must serve as a learning opportunity to the entire country. If lead pipes are not replaced immediately, this large- scale poisoning could happen in almost any American city. Low-income areas are equally worthy of safety and health as their affluent counterparts.

The fear surrounding the Flint Water Crisis must spurn the country to protect its citizens from the dangers of lead-laced drinking water.

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