by BAR editor and columnist Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo
The crime against humanity that was committed in Flint, Michigan, has been silently replicated in cities all across the nation. Investigations show 2,000 water systems in all 50 states register excessive lead levels, with Ithaca, New York’s water hovering at “the threshold of hazardous waste.” The nation – especially its Black and brown communities – has been utterly betrayed by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Investigation into Flint: Children in the Crosshairs
by BAR editor and columnist Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo
“The empirical reality is that the poisonings have surgically targeted, for the most part, Black and Brown communities.”
A disturbing USA Today Investigation entitled: “Beyond Flint: "Excessive Lead Levels Found in Almost 2,000 Water Systems" exposes the appalling reality that EPA would rather you not know: lead poisoning is widespread throughout the United States. Flint, Michigan, has received notable attention as a singular disaster involving the EPA Administrator, Gina McCarthy, the of Michigan Governor, Rick Snyder, and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality that deliberately poisoned children for nearly one year. But, the USA report demonstrates that Flint is simply a snowflake on the tip of an iceberg.
Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Jason Caffetz, demanded that EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy resign, and Minority Ranking Committee Member Elijah Cummins demanded Gov. Synder’s resignation. However, no one is holding their breath, realizing that neither McCarthy nor Snyder have the moral or intellectual honesty to tender their resignations. Perhaps a more important indicator that the poisoning was deliberate and state sponsored is that not a single person has been charged with a crime, not even a misdemeanor.
Lead poisoning puts children at risk for irreversible brain damage and compromises liver and kidney functions in adults. If EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy’s flat-line testimony before the House Committee on Government Reform during the Flint disaster is any indication of national leadership, the country is in a toxic free fall. Communities need to understand that they cannot rely on the EPA or local governments to save their children and their families from lead poisoning. Another important point is that disasters such as Flint occur when whistleblowers are silenced and employees are too intimidated to disclose life-saving information. EPA has a consistent and vile pattern of silencing whistleblowers, such as water expert Miguel Del Toral who attempt to protect communities from public health disasters.
“Flint is simply a snowflake on the tip of an iceberg.”
The USA TODAY investigation reported that nearly “2,000 additional water systems spanning all 50 states where testing has shown excessive levels of lead contamination over the past four years.”
The water systems, which reported lead levels exceeding Environmental Protection Agency standards, collectively supply water to 6 million people. About 350 of those systems provide drinking water to schools or day cares.”
The report provides an interactive map for readers to determine if their community is affected. However, it should be noted that if your community is not listed it does not mean that the water being piped into your home is safe, it simply could mean that data is not available to assess your risks because reporting is not mandatory. The empirical reality is that the poisonings have surgically targeted, for the most part, Black and Brown communities, i.e., Flint, Newark, New Jersey, Washington, DC. Whites living in these areas are essentially collateral damage.
It was Virginia Tech scientist Marc Edwards who exposed the lead poisoning in Washington, DC – making him a target for EPA and CDC disinformation – who summed up the abhorrent nature of the betrayal by the disgraced EPA Region 5 Administrator, Susan Hedman. Edwards testified:
"I personally witnessed and exposed misconduct by EPA Regional Administrator Susan Hedman. Ms. Hedman actively aided, abetted and emboldened the unethical behavior of civil servants at the State of Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. She allowed Flint children to be harmed. Consequently, why should Ms. Hedman not face the same or worse fate as a common landlord who engaged in similar behavior? Had Flint residents not fought for the truth with the assistance of compassionate outsiders, the harm to Flint’s children would never have been exposed."
Hedman was forced to resign, but has faced no other penalty.
“Disasters such as Flint occur when whistleblowers are silenced and employees are too intimidated to disclose life-saving information.”
Most disturbing and perhaps indicative of the deliberateness of these crimes is the refusal of EPA and the States of Michigan to provide the slightest opportunity for communities to protect themselves and their children by providing public notice of poisoned water. The investigation found that:
“…at least 180 of the water systems failed to notify consumers about the high lead levels as federal rules require.”
Many of the highest reported lead levels were found at schools and day cares. A water sample at a Maine elementary school was 42 times higher than the EPA limit of 15 parts per billion, while a Pennsylvania preschool was 14 times higher, records show. At an elementary school in Ithaca, N.Y., one sample tested this year at a stunning 5,000 ppb of lead, the EPA’s threshold for “hazardous waste.”
We must demand new leadership both at the federal and state levels. Please see below a link to a White House petition demanding that President Obama fire EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy:
Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo is the author of the Pulitzer Prize nominated: No FEAR: A Whistleblowers Triumph over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA. She worked at the EPA for 18 years and blew the whistle on a US multinational corporation that endangered South African vanadium mine workers. Marsha's successful lawsuit led to the introduction and passage of the first civil rights and whistleblower law of the 21st century: the Notification of Federal Employees Anti-discrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002 (No FEAR Act). She is Director of Transparency and Accountability for the Green Shadow Cabinet, serves on the Advisory Board of ExposeFacts.com and coordinates the Hands Up Coalition, DC.