Ahead of the Democratic debate in lead-poisoned Flint, Michigan on Sunday, a new poll shows that many Americans don’t trust the public water system.
Only half the country is “very confident” that tap water is safe to drink. A third of respondents said they were “moderately confident,” while nearly one in five said they aren’t confident at all.
More than half the respondents said that the water crisis in Flint — in which city water was contaminated with lead for 18 months, potentially causing longterm damage to thousands of children — was a sign of a widespread infrastructure problem in America.
They might be right.
“We have a lot of threats to the water supply,” Dr. Jeffrey K. Griffiths, a professor of public health at Tufts University and a former chairman of the E.P.A.’s Drinking Water Committee, told the paper. “And we have lots of really good professionals in the water industry who see themselves as protecting the public good. But it doesn’t take much for our aging infrastructure or an unprofessional actor to allow that protection to fall apart.”
As far back as 2001, the Natural Resources Defense Council found that “pollution, old pipes and outdated treatment threaten tap water quality,” in American cities. Lead poisoning is often traced to pipe corrosion.
Long-term exposure to lead can cause blood anemia, colic, kidney damage, muscle weakness, brain damage, and even death. But studies have shown that even at low levels, lead exposure can cause cognitive and behavioral issues such as learning disabilities, attention disorders, and even a tendency towards violence. Children, especially young and unborn children, whose brains and nervous systems are still forming, are especially at risk to exposure.
Lower-income Americans and people of color are even more likely to worry about contamination, the poll found, which is unsurprising considering that poor and minority communities are more likely to be exposed to pollution.
Furthermore, the EPA estimates that a third of America’s fresh water sources are inadequately protected. The agency released an addition to the Clean Water Act, known as the Water of the United States rule, last spring, and it has been under attack ever since. Congress passed a resolution to stop the rule, which President Obama vetoed, and group of states has filed a suit against the EPA.
But according to the recently released poll, half of Americans say the federal government should do more to ensure safe drinking water. Four in 10 Americans think the government is doing the right amount, and only 7 percent think it should be doing less.
During the Republican debate in Michigan last month, Sen. Marco Rubio was asked about Flint’s lead contamination. Rubio responded that the water crisis was a “systemic breakdown at every level of government.” The exchange only lasted two minutes, and no other candidates discussed the issue.
At Sunday’s debate in Flint, water safety is expected to be a much bigger focus. Both Democratic candidates have blamed racism for the disaster in Flint and demanded accountability for the officials who made the call to switch the city’s water to the Flint River and covered it up.