The lead poising crisis in Flint, Michigan is an ongoing scandal that suggests the American water supply is less safe than people once believed. The Flint water supply became poisoned in 2014 after the city decided to switch its water supply from water drawn from Lake Huron to treated water from the Flint River. The move was supposed to save about $5 million, but it could now cost the city and state over $60 million, and wind up costing the federal govern $300 million to clean up.
The Flint crisis has both scientific and political dimensions, since the political decisions of state officials led to the problem in the first place. The state and federal government are under constant pressure to eliminate environmental regulations. Both houses of Congress voted to block new regulations under the Clean Water Act that could have made water safe to drink. Environmental conditions such as the use of salt during winters have also had an impact, causing lead pipes to corrode.
Although government officials and scientists believe that most of the American water supply is safe, there are other danger spots across the country. These are the other cities where chemicals are contaminating the water supply.
1. St. Joseph, Louisiana
The small town of St. Joseph, Louisiana has suffered from deterioration of its water supply for years. In recent months, the water has turned from yellow to brown, likely the product of corroded lead pipes. After the Flint story garnered headlines, citizens of St. Joseph started a federal petition to have the president declare a state of emergency.
2. Sebring, Ohio
Sebring, Ohio has dangerously high levels of lead in its water. The problem seems to have been caused when the city stopped putting sodium hydroxide in the water. Without it, the water was more corrosive to lead pipes. Worse yet, city officials knew about the problem in 2015 but did not reveal it to citizens until 2016. Flint officials also failed to use sodium hydroxide, which creates an insoluble coating inside of the pipes, which reduces how much lead leaches into water.
3. Washington D.C.
Washington D.C. had a lead crisis of its own between 2001 and 2004. The culprit in this case was chloramine, a compound added to water that cause premature breakdown of pipes solder joints, fixtures and other plumbing components. Lead levels were at least 83 times over a safe level. The shift from chlorine to chloramine was finally fixed in 2004, when more treatments were added to DC’s water to prevent the chloramine from dissolving the lead. Still, a recent report concluded that 15,000 homes still had dangerously high levels of lead in their water.
4. Charleston, West Virginia
In 2014, over 300,000 people were without safe water after a toxic chemical spill in the Elk River area, near Charleston in West Virginia. Freedom Industries was fined just $11,000 for spilling a mysterious chemical called “crude-MCHM” into the river. The chemical leaked from a crumbling holding tank. West Virginia had a lax regulatory scheme that didn’t include frequent and strict inspections of above-ground tanks and secondary containment systems.
5, 6, 7. Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Cedar Falls, Iowa
Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Cedar Falls all reported a dangerous level of nitrates in their water supplies. Nitrate contamination is a growing problem, thanks to discharges chemicals used in farm fields. In 2015, Des Moines Water Works sued drainage districts in three rural Iowa counties for draining nitrates into their tile lines. Nitrates should not exceed 10 mg per liter. Pregnant women and young children have been cautioned not to drink the water.
Now that the water issue has made headlines, many Americans are hoping it becomes a major discussion during the 2016 presidential election.