I started following Erin Brockovich a few months ago. I recommend you do the same.
Who knew the state of drinking water in the United States was in such piss poor shape?
I spent some time in Medellin, Colombia last year. Before I left this country, Amercans warned me again and again not to drink the water in Medellin. I showed up (pregnant, mind you), and everyone assured me that Medellin tap water was fine for all the drinking, teeth brushing, and showering my heart desired. It turns out the city long ago decided drinking water was a top priority and went about making a safe drinking water system — no small feat for a densely populated urban area in a developing country. But they got it done, and the system continues to be a great success and source of pride for the city.
In just the past couple months of following Brockovich’s feed, I have learned of the following:
- three accounts of brain eating amoebas found in drinking water in Louisiana this summer,
- drinking water contaminated with lead due to Michigan’s crumbling infrastructure causing elevated lead levels in children’s blood,
- West Virginia drinking water contaminated with cancer-causing toxic chemicals from DuPont’s teflon production,
- a doctor in the Bronx who was fired for testing his patient’s water supply for the bacteria that causes Legionnaire’s disease after an outbreak killed 16 this summer,
- an infant in Texas died after exposure to the bacteria that causes Legionnaire’s disease during a water birth where the tub was filled with well water
- patients in the University of Pittsburgh’s hospital contracted Legionnaire’s disease, and one died, from ice chips infected with the bacteria
As this great article by Emily Crockett at RH Reality Check points out, clean water is a reproductive health issue. Often the bodies of pregnant and lactating women, as well as those of infants and young children, are not considered when officials announce warnings about the safety of drinking water. After the chemical spill in West Virginia, officials gave the “ok” for people to drink the water. Later they said “wait, pregnant women might want to hold off.”
Mothers are not an afterthought. Mothers, in fact, are where human life begins.
The articles about the brain-eating amoeba in Louisiana insist the drinking water is safe to drink because the only way people are at risk of acquiring the deadly organism is by getting the amoeba up their nose. Have the people issuing these warnings ever bathed an infant? Have they themselves ever showered?
As New York City attempts to deal with the Legionnaire’s outbreak in the Bronx it listens to experts saying the bacteria is a problem in cooling systems. Yet we know the disease can also come from mist from showers and faucets. And when a doctor recognizes this and expresses concern that the city is focusing on cooling systems instead of drinking water he loses his job.
Some reporting of the infant who died following a water birth as a result of exposure to Legionella are blaming the concept of water birth itself. The details of the Texas incident suggest the midwives likely did not follow best practices. However, reporting that fails to blame contaminated water and instead blames the idea of giving birth in water at all is missing the actual problem.
All this has me furious and disappointed. This is a basic task. This is ensuring America has clean drinking water — that all people in America have clean drinking water. It’s a task you would think everyone could get behind.
But instead it’s like this doesn’t matter. I have a friend who lived in an old house. She got her baby’s lead levels tested- I’m not sure why, maybe this was protocol at her pediatrician’s practice. They were elevated and the doctor suspected the old pipes were to blame.
I am sick of politicians not caring about America’s crumbling infrastucture. I am sick of the USEPA not doing their job to carry out the Safe Drinking Water Act.
In her book Counting for Nothing, feminist economist Marilyn Waring explains the importance of day to day work– reproductive work she calls it– the act of doing all the things that must be done and done again to keep ourselves going: making food, cleaning living space, bathing children, things like that.
Well America needs to take some serious time to focus on reproductive work. The drinking water must be kept clean; the pipes must be kept up and checked to be sure they haven’t become too corroded to be of any use in transporting fresh, clean water for people to drink; lead paint must be safely removed; new safe paints should be added. The list goes on and on of basic tasks that must be done repeatedly. It is the maintenance of a civilization. America is slacking and its citizens are paying with their health and the health of their loved ones.
People need jobs? America needs more jobs? Fix the crumbling infrastructure. Make America safe for our mothers, our infants, our children.
Some people don’t think the government should supply jobs, don’t think our tax dollars should go to keep people employed. I am happy to see our tax dollars go to paying people to do this necessary work. But I also know we have to hold people accountable to make sure they are doing their job.
I encourage everyone reading this to find out where your water comes from. To see if there are any violations under investigation. Encourage your friends to do the same. When you travel, be aware of each location’s water source. Encourage your friends to do this too.
We are made of this environment we live in. There is no separation between it and us. We can be responsible and know that and accept that and act accordingly, or we can wait until we are forced to realize it due to the illness and suffering of our loved ones or ourselves.
There is no reason to wait. We can take responsibility and work to make sure others do the same. This is a big task, but we must be up for it.