The United States is facing a crisis when it comes to drinking water—one that hits far too many families close to home. It’s now become clear that the tragedy of Flint, Michigan was just the beginning, as reports of contaminated and toxic tap water continue to come in from locations across the country. America’s crumbling water infrastructure is failing its citizens, and is in desperate need of repair. Part of the problem is the sheer age of many water and sewer pipes. By 2020 the average American pipeline will be 45 years old, and some will have been in the ground for as many 150 years. Corroding pipes, lead contamination, and other issues have led to widespread panic about the safety of drinking water in the U.S.
The only solution is a major overhaul of the country’s water infrastructure, one which water advisory firm Bluefield Research estimates will cost our country $300 billion dollars over the next decade. Local governments will be hit hardest by this price tag, with many poorer communities already struggling to find the resources to fix their toxic water infrastructure.
In an effort to raise awareness of this vital issue, VICE Impact has assembled a list of some of the American communities hit hardest by the water crisis. Everyone deserves the right to clean and safe drinking water, so let’s continue to fight for the Americans who need our help.
On September, 7th, 2016, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett made an announcement that shocked people around the city: anyone living in a home built before 1951 was advised to install a water filter. Why? To protect residents from potentially toxic levels of lead. Ever since then, Milwaukee has been embroiled in a public health crisis, with many citizens and activists disappointed with the response of the city’s administration.
Lead isn’t the only contaminate to be concerned about when it comes to clean drinking water.
This past December, Mayor Barrett informed residents that health commissioner Bevan Baker had resigned, while also stating that the agency failed to notify families whose children tested positive for elevated levels of lead in their blood. This major oversight caused an uproar amongst activist groups, lead by Fresh Water for Life Action Coalition (FLAC).
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The advocacy group is calling for the resignation of Mayor Barrett as well, saying the city’s handling of the water crisis is “a massive coverup.” This month, activists staged a protest outside Mayor Barrett’s office, calling for an investigation by the U.S. attorney. Throughout it all, one thing is clear—activists won’t rest until families across Milwaukee have safe drinking water.
Lead isn’t the only contaminate to be concerned about when it comes to clean drinking water—according to a recent report by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG) more than 170 million people nationwide are exposed to radium in their tap water, a radioactive element that may increase the risk of cancer.
Concerned citizens are critical of the state legislators’ decision to not renew the program, when so many poor rural communities in Texas desperately need infrastructure overhauls.
Though radium was found in portions of every state in America, Texas is the state with the most widespread contamination, with over 22 million people being exposed to the radioactive substance. Among the locations hit hardest, is the small town of Brady, Texas—a community where radium levels are nine times higher than they should be.
For now, residents are relying heavily on bottled water until a solution is found. Mayor Tony Groves says that a water system infrastructure overhaul would cost the city upwards of $20 million dollars, a sum that the impoverished community just doesn’t have. The small Texas town has set its sights on funding from the state’s Economically Distressed Areas Program, but there is only $50 million left in the fund and other cities are competing for the money.
Concerned citizens are critical of the state legislators’ decision to not renew the program, when so many poor rural communities in Texas desperately need infrastructure overhauls. The bottom line: Brady needs help, and it’s just one of many similarly troubled communities in Texas.
In July of 2016, many residents of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania received a shocking letter from the Pittsburgh Water and Sewage Authority in their mailboxes. The letter stated that their tap water contained 22 parts per billion of lead, which was almost 1.5 times greater than the federal limit. Over the years, the PWSA had been plagued by severe management issues, and for many politicians and citizens, the tap water contamination has been the worst offense in a lengthy history disappointments.
Local tensions escalated, after a 2017 audit conducted by Chelsa Wagner, the Allegheny County Controller, found that Pittsburgh health officials downplayed the dangers of lead in drinking water. Calling it the “worst thing” she’s seen in her 12 years as an elected official, Wagner’s report detailed instances of the health department issuing misleading statements to the public.
By 2020 the average American pipeline will be 45 years old, and some will have been in the ground for as many 150 years.
In June of 2017, the PWSA reported that lead levels had dropped to 15 parts per billion, which is in compliance with EPA-mandated standards. But just this month, Wagner’s office released another statement, saying that data reported to the state indicates that lead levels rose once again between July and December of 2017. One thing is clear—the fight for clean water in Pittsburgh isn’t over yet, and it’s up to citizens and dedicated officials to hold their city accountable.