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Water you going to do about it?

Lack of awareness contributes to main problem with Flint’s water crisis.

Corey Pierce, a member of a church and volunteer for the water distribution ministry, sits on a stockpile of purified water inside a church on June 27, 2016, in Flint, Mich. Two years after the Michigan state government botched a plan to switch the drinking water of the town of Flint and ended up poisoning residents with lead, the town is still dealing with the crisis, with many residents still not using filters properly. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

TNS

Corey Pierce, a member of a church and volunteer for the water distribution ministry, sits on a stockpile of purified water inside a church on June 27, 2016, in Flint, Mich. Two years after the Michigan state government botched a plan to switch the drinking water of the town of Flint and ended up poisoning residents with lead, the town is still dealing with the crisis, with many residents still not using filters properly. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

Marilyn Isabel Ramirez, Staff Writer

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If you turn on your faucet or shower in Long Beach, there will be an unsurprising flow of usable, non-toxic water. The city’s water department notes on their site the treatment plans and tests that water undergoes annually in order to prove that what LB inhabitants are drinking is, well, drinkable. We’re fortunate. Having said that, our good fortune shrouds us from the water crisis occurring in Flint, Michigan — and we ignore the consequences of hiding behind our privilege.

Since the city of Flint decided to tap into its namesake river as a main water source in 2014, the inhabitants have suffered from lead exposure due to major pipeline corrosion. According to the World Health Organization, it’s especially lethal for children and pregnant women, causing behavioral disorders, reduced IQ, and toxicity to the reproductive organs. The effects are believed to be irreversible.

Lead poisoning is only the latest affliction caused by the contaminated water in Flint to be discovered after coliform bacteria, cancerous byproducts of disinfectants and Escherichia coli. Although I’d assume any logical person – perhaps a state governor –  would agree that decontaminating or choosing a non-toxic water source would be at the top of the agenda, that’s not the case for Flint.

The standard of health reformations in this country comes down to one thing: the personal agendas of officials who contribute to an everlasting cycle of oppression by ignoring those who are less fortunate.

Flint is no different. The Commission’s report investigated the “the role decades of structural and institutional discrimination and racism played in quieting [their] voices and enabling the poisoning of [the] public water supply.”

Flint inhabitants are 56.6 percent African American, 37.4 percent white and 3.9 percent Hispanic. About 41.2 percent of residents live below the poverty line and the median household income is $24,862, according to the United States Census Bureau. Much of the communities of color fall below that poverty line. On Monday, Michigan Civil Rights Commission released a report, “The Flint Water Crisis: Systemic Racism Through the Lens of Flint” on the ongoing environmental racism that the water crisis has exemplified.

We’ve normalized the existence of health and safety issues of communities that are predominantly people of color and poor. We consume images and media showing impoverished cities where black and brown people dominate the population,  and do not think, “Something should be done to fix that.” Instead, we agree — maybe not consciously — with the portrayal. It makes sense for their communities to suffer while others thrive. Historically, a combination of darker skin and lower income means you’re subject to a lack of communal representation, health care, safe living accommodations, and a poorer quality of life overall. What’s worse is that so many of these communities are either accustomed to this treatment or have no power in changing it.

The problem is that officials who are in power making decisions do not represent the public demographic at all. For instance, newly-appointed Governor Rick Snyder, (who has  a $200-million net worth), should have been inclined to help any Michigan community out of a water health crisis in 2011 — if he represented the people. Snyder failed to address the crisis, though, and instead prioritized corporations over civilians. Huffington Post contributor Michael Moore described Snyder completing a special request for General Motors, which was complaining of erosion evidence throughout the assembly line: “[Snyder] spent $440,000 to hook GM back up to the Lake Huron water, while keeping the rest of Flint on the Flint River water.”

One might argue he allocated funds toward a company that was making money for the state that would trickle back down, somehow, to the city-level and contribute to funding aid for the water crisis. Yet, the result was a consistent call for funds, as Flint Mayor Karen Weaver claimed it would take $1.5 billion to fix damaged water systems, according Detroit Free Press writer Paul Egan.

Unfortunately, it’s 2017, and it’s no surprise that civil rights groups have to point to a long history, especially in Flint, of racism and bias to give states perspective on what they believe is actually helping. In the report, the Commission refers to a long history of segregation in housing and education. This has contributed to people of color residing in areas closest to the most contaminated areas of Flint’s water source, as well as a lack of political clout that left these residents without a strong representation of their health concerns.

So what can we do? Sure, educating politicians on procedural environmental justice and how to stop ignoring histories of environmental injustices and the people involved might help. Emphasizing the importance of better representation within policy-making groups could help, too. In situations like the Flint water crisis and other health emergencies hurled at communities predominantly filled with people of color, though, there’s no sure-proof solution without first identifying and eradicating systemic racism and economic bias.

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