What’s in our Water?

The water crisis in Flint, Michigan has raised serious safety concerns on both a state and national level, raising questions about how safe our water is and who is protecting and regulating it?

Flint is not alone. In a recent article, Michael Wines and John Schwartz of the New York Times point to tests done last year in Sebring, Ohio that found “unsafe levels of lead in the town’s drinking water after workers stopped adding a chemical to keep lead water pipes from corroding.” Wines and Schwartz go on to report, “Five months passed before the city told pregnant women and children not to drink the water.” The same article also reported that in 2001 when Washington, D.C. began to change their disinfecting process for water, levels of lead in homes, “spiked as much as twenty times the federally approved levels,” and that residents in over 17,000 homes “did not find out for three years.”

Michigan has shorelines on four of the five Great Lakes. The Great Lakes stretch nearly 100,000 square miles and provide water for tens of millions of people. The Great Lakes are also home to thousands of plant and animal species.

A study released in 2000 conducted by the United States Geological Survey tested 139 streams across 30 states. According to The Alliance for the Great Lakes, a non-governmental citizen’s environmental organization, the results showed evidence of pharmaceuticals in drinking water across the country and in the lakes that included, “human and veterinary drugs and synthetic hormones, detergent metabolites, plasticizers, insecticides and fire retardants.”

The study goes on to say, “The research community is especially concerned about the human health consequences of long-term, low-level exposure to pharmaceuticals as these compounds are deliberately designed to interact with the body at low concentrations in order to bring about a biological change.”

How have lawmakers responded to threats to our clean water?

According to several news and reporting sites including the Hill, a political newspaper published in Washington, D.C. The House Appropriations committee has approved a $30 billion spending bill that includes major cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funding.

According to Devin Henry of The Hill, “Lawmakers approved the bill on a mostly party-line vote, and much of the debate centered on measures in the bill targeting EPA policies.” Henry goes on to report that Republicans said the measures are necessary to rein in what committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky) called an “unnecessary, job-killing regulatory agenda.”

Following the Interior Environment Spending Bill that cut EPA funding, Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) said that, “The administration’s appetite for new regulations and disregard for Congress has left us little choice but to block the president’s overzealous regulatory agenda in this bill,” in reference to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.

Democrats have strongly opposed the move and claim that it, “cuts the agency’s funding by $718 million.” According to the EPA’s official website, part of the allotted funds are disbursed to state and local governments to keep our water clean. In 1972 as a part of the Federal Water pollution Control Act, “Congress recognized that many local governments could not afford to build sewage treatment systems without help”. To assist with the costs of resources the Act created grant programs to disperse funds for municipal water programs.

So as cities and states struggle to find funding and resources for water treatment facilities and procedures, the federal government is losing its ability to fund and regulate these programs.

Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) has said that, “The air every American breathes, the water every American drinks, are all at risk because of the funding cuts and policy attacks on this bill.”

Madeleine Foote, legislative representative for the League of Conservation Voters Action Fund, spoke on the matter of the water crisis in Flint and its broader implications, “Any senator or any candidate for Senate that isn’t out there calling for more protections for drinking water is completely out of step and will do that at their peril.”

Flint’s residents and politicians are calling for the EPA to help them at a time when the EPA is being defunded. Moving forward, many concerns have been raised about the competence of the individuals relied on to protect the nation’s drinking water. The State of Michigan points to local officials and federal leadership. The EPA points to state and local officials. Meanwhile, the residents of Flint, Michigan are little closer to any real solution, and the recent cuts to EPA funding may not be helping.

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