From CHAPTER 1. HOW DID WE GET HERE?
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Here’s another question for you: Do you know what the MCL for lead is in this country?
You know lead—a nervous-system toxin that according to our own regulatory agency (the EPA) has no safe level of exposure. Lead in drinking water can cause everything from stomach pains to permanent brain damage.
It’s a trick question. We don’t have an MCL, and that’s another big problem. We have a TT— a “treatment technique” regulation better known as the Lead and Copper Rule.
In Flint, Michigan, lead was leaching into the water supply for almost two years and public officials said everything was fine. Former Flint mayor Dayne Walling went as far as to drink the contaminated water on local TV to assure residents it was safe to drink. Since early 2019, thirteen state and local officials have been criminally charged in connection to the water disaster in Flint, some facing forty or more years in prison with more charges possible.
While school safety continues to be a huge issue in the aftermath of many mass shootings, school after school is finding toxic levels of lead in their water. More than 80 percent of New York City schools tested positive for elevated lead levels in April 2017, and the testing protocol came under fire after experts revealed that the city had been running water pipes the night before testing in 2016, a process called flushing that can make the water appear cleaner when tested. The problem has gotten so bad that states like California are starting to introduce legislation that would make it mandatory to test the drinking water for lead contamination in all school districts and colleges, which is a step in the right direction. I’m still wondering how that TT is going. . . .
The bill’s author, assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego), told a local radio station, “The lead crisis in Flint, Michigan, was a wake-up call. We’ve had this mentality of putting our heads in the sand and not really asking the questions we need to ask.”
That’s right, Lorena! It’s time to get our heads out of the sand and start holding our officials accountable.
The bill would require schools to shut off any source of drinking water if lead contamination is discovered, and to inform staff and parents about the potential exposure. Do you realize that we weren’t testing all these years or that government and industry employees were messing with the standards set for testing? Even low levels of lead in children’s blood can create permanent damage, including decreased IQ and hyperactivity.
Here’s another example of a law that protects industry, not people. The Energy Policy Act of 2005, which includes the infamous “Halliburton loophole,” has helped create the mess that we all know as fracking. Hydraulic fracturing, an advanced extraction method used by oil and gas companies, requires millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals to break apart rock and release gas. The law allows fracking companies to hide the contents of the toxic chemical solutions that they pump into the ground. Thanks to the Halliburton loophole, these fracking fluids are protected under law, and so doctors responding to health complaints can’t access the data showing what chemicals their patients have been exposed to.
How could such a law have been passed? Do you think money might have played a part? A big part. Corporations look at their bottom line first and foremost, hiring lobbyists and, as we’ll see, contriving science to get what they want done.
Millions of Americans live within one mile of a fracking well and studies have found that the toxic chemicals from fracking, natural gas processing sites, and storage facilities are present in high concentrations in the bodies of people living or working near these sites. Now tell me how those who wrote this law can sleep at night.
THE GROWING HEALTH CRISIS
It is devastating that in our quest to become a supergiant, industrialized country, everyday people have been secretly robbed of our most basic human right—our health. Huge corporations and government agencies have been missing the mark, making grievous mistakes, or in many cases intentionally polluting our water for their own profit. And, not surprisingly, it’s making millions of people sick.
Every community meeting that I attend about water turns into a meeting about the health crisis in a community, and that’s not okay.
The reason that I get invited to these meetings is because my name has become synonymous with hope. It’s become synonymous with fighting. And what many of you may not realize is that I never stopped. I became known for my work fighting for people in one town, but the fight is still going strong. The problems portrayed in that film have only gotten worse.
This isn’t my story; it’s everyone’s story.
Once you know the truth and can see it, the question becomes what are you going to do about it?
This is a book dedicated to telling the truth. And sadly, it’s a dirty truth. We can no longer take for granted the simple act of filling up a glass of clean water from our kitchen sink.
I want to help expose what’s going on in this country; help make you aware of these problems, which are not going to fix themselves; and show you how to take actions that can reverse water toxicity in your town, city, and region.
It is hard to believe, but the average American uses nearly a hundred gallons of water each day for everything from drinking to cooking to bathing. We all need access to clean water.
Yet for years, reports and testing across the country show that the drinking water is not as safe or sound as we would like. Our water treatment systems are antiquated and regularly in violation of the laws we’ve established, containing highly concentrated levels of arsenic, lead, bacteria, and more. Unsupervised industry pollution combined with failing infrastructure is a recipe for disaster. To add insult to injury, the more polluted the water becomes, the more chemicals we need to treat it.
Water treatment facilities throughout the country are changing the way they handle our drinking water at alarming rates. Many are switching from chlorine, the primary disinfectant used in drinking water systems for more than a hundred years, to an alternative disinfectant chloramine, which is a mixture of chlorine and ammonia. Some estimates show that about one in five Americans drink water disinfected with chloramine.
One of the main reasons for this switch is to provide increased protection from bacterial contamination and more. But using chloramines is literally one of the cheapest options available and it’s not as effective at controlling taste and odors in the water. Chlorine evaporates into the air relatively quickly, while chloramine is more stable and will last longer in the water system. Research has shown that chloramine causes deterioration of the municipal infrastructure thanks to changes in the water chemistry. In water systems that still use lead pipes or lead components, this reaction causes the lead and other heavy metals to leach into drinking water and out of faucets and showerheads. Instead of spending the money to fix old pipes and update our systems, money-crunched municipalities are adding chemicals like ammonia to drinking water as a quick fix, which only causes more issues.
We know contaminants are in the water, and we know these contaminants are linked to illnesses and health issues, especially cancer.
Here are some numbers for you to consider:
• 1,735,350. That’s the estimated number of new cases of cancer diagnosed in the United States in 2018.
• 15 million U.S. households (or 45 million people) obtain their drinking water from private wells, which are not covered by the EPA regulations that protect public drinking water systems. The presence of contaminants in this water can lead to health issues like gastrointestinal illness, reproductive issues, and neurological disorders.
• Half of all children in the U.S. are dealing with chronic health conditions. HALF. I can’t say all those health conditions are coming from the water, but it certainly is contributing.
outbreaks have quadrupled in the last fifteen years. Legionella
is a type of bacteria found naturally in freshwater like lakes and streams, but it has become more widespread in man-made water systems like showers, faucets, and plumbing systems. In 2016, about five thousand Americans were diagnosed with this severe (and sometimes fatal) form of pneumonia, called Legionnaire’s disease, which people contract from breathing small droplets of water contaminated with the bacteria. How do they contract it? When they are in the shower.
I’m working with hundreds of communities now (and thousands more are reporting in), and these numbers represent just a small sample of what we are dealing with.
If you think getting involved isn’t for you or that you’re not a leader, I’ve got some news for you. We’re all leaders. We can’t afford to sit on the sidelines anymore—none of us can. You, your kids, your grandkids, and your neighbors need a better world now and a legacy to leave for future generations.
If you can answer yes to any of the following questions, then you have what it takes to effectively lead yourself and others. It’s that simple.
• Did you get out of bed this morning and make breakfast?
• Did you drive your kids to school?
• Did you show up to a work meeting or organize a friend’s birthday party?
The problems we face today are too big for any one person, even me. I need your help. I want to leave a legacy for my grandchildren and yours. We can either use our power to turn the state of our water around or leave our grandchildren with polluted water everywhere and not a drop to drink.
This is your wake-up call, America. Are you ready to act?
Copyright © 2020 by Erin Brockovich. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.