Jo-Elle MogermanScience for Citizens
Water Quality Is a Concern for Urban Areas
The increases in population and building density that occur as predominantly rural catchment areas become progressively urbanized can have a far-reaching effect on the hydrological cycle, and therefore on both the quantity and quality of water resources. The success of management strategies intended to alleviate the flooding problems and to prevent the degradation of water quality within and downstream of the urban area depends upon a thorough understanding of the sources of urban runoff pollution and the mechanisms by which pollutants are transported to watercourses. Particular care is necessary to ensure that any measures taken to mitigate the adverse effects of either flooding or pollution do not conflict with others in the same overall storm water management plan. Water quality is of vital importance given the many diverse uses for water in different industries. For example, in terms of drinking water, quality is very important because the water has to be clear of harmful contaminants in order to ensure that it’s safe for human consumption. Water suppliers treat the public works with cleansing chemicals like chlorine to kill bacteria that gathered in the water cycle. However, treatments like theses can often leave the water with an unpalatable taste and odor. Therefore, in terms of tap water in your home, it is best to filter your supply to ensure the best quality taste for consistent consumption. Urban landscapes are nonporous thus there exists almost no opportunity for runoff to percolate. EPA also notes that runoff from highly developed urban areas can lead to increased water temperatures thus adversely affecting aquatic life and the quality of water in affected streams like Flint, Michigan. If a wastewater treatment plant is not maintained well or if it is poorly cited, then there is the risk of causing water pollution in urban areas. Industrial wastes and emissions are a serious conern due to their contribution in water pollution in urban areas. With most urban areas having industries, industrial pollutants have been of major concern. It is noted that most industries are likely to be located close to water sources for industrial process. Unfortunately, these same industries end up mismanaging the precious resource by introducing hazardous chemicals. Industrial wastes include acids and alkalis, heavy metals like cadmium in addition to chemicals such as ammonia. Acids and alkalis alter the pH of water whereas detergents cause increased turbidity that has the potential to intoxicate aquatic organisms. Areas like Flint which is located in Michigan back in 2014 how a hard time getting clean water and are still currently battling to receive good clean water.
Flint is 57% black, 37% white, 4% Latino and 4% mixed race; more than 41% of its residents live below the poverty level, according to the U.S. Census. Flint Water Crisis is one of the major environmental pollutions in recent U.S. history. In 2014, the water source for resident use in Flint, Michigan was changed from Lake Huron to the Flint River (Heard-Garris ; et al, 2017). Without proper water treatment after the change of the water source, local residents were exposed to elevated lead levels in their tap water and local children had higher blood lead levels (Carla ; et al, 2016). In 2013, in order to reduce the costs of the water treatment, city of Flint cooperated with Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA) to transmit water from Lake Huron. Due to the failure in agreement with Detroit Water and Sewage Department (DWSD), the city of Flint decided to use the water of Flint River and treated at Flint Water Service Center (FWSC) instead of buying the treated water from DWSD. Until May of 2014, the tap water that was used often appeared brown and had foul odor. Rashes and hair loss were complained by the local residents after taking shower. The state and local authority did not take action immediately after the incident occurred. In August of 2014, the city of Flint suggested that local residents should boil the tap water before consuming (Venkataraman, 2018). However, after boiling the water, the concentration of the lead in the water will increase more since boiling water will evaporate water but not the lead particles.
The escalation of the issue started in January 2015, when city officials informed local residents high levels of a class of compounds called trihalomethanes (THMs). From there, the concerns and fears on the safety of water use raised among the local residents (Venkataraman, 2018). Lead is poisonous to the human body. Studies showed that having elevated lead levels in blood can decrease the intelligence, development, behavior, attention and other neurological functions in young children (Masten ; et al, 2016). Also, long-term exposure to lead will cause hypertension and kidney damage (Carla ; et al, 2016). This incident also led to mental and financial burdens for the local residents. The concern and fear of consuming the contaminated water and the sickness affect the daily life of the local residents, such as increasing stress and ability to attend work or school. The need of purchasing bottles water or water filters and medicine increased their limited financial expenses (Heard-Garris ; et al, 2017).
Minorities were the main population that was affected in this incident. Instead of racism, I think classism is more suitable to describe this type of environmental injustice. A big proportion in the lower class is the minorities, especially the African Americans and Hispanics. They are suffering from the economic and social disadvantages, such as having lesser value of property, more laborious work, lower education and lesser political influence (MCRC ;MDCR, 2017). Race was the indicator of classism. Therefore, most of the time, people will perceive this as racism but I think it is actually classism. In a free market, capitalism which only focuses on maximizing profit will cause inequality to the society and the environment, such as social gap and environmental depletion. As the environmental depletion becomes greater, often people in the lower class of the society suffered the most. The residential areas of the lower-class people were usually targeted and exploited by hazardous sites and low quality of environmental health protection.
ConclusionIn my opinion, this crisis can be highly prevented by applying 2 of my suggestions. Firstly, establishing and enforcing regulations for more public decisions as well as transparent-and-open information in water use is important to avoid corruption and injustice. Lastly, the involvement from the local community and the public health officials are crucial to the safety of water use. The local community and the public health officials should work together regularly to monitor and assess the government decision as well as the quality of water use.
In many cases of environmental injustice, lower-class people are often targeted as the victims. Water is a necessity for life and having access to safe and sufficient water should be a basic human right. Therefore, the Flint Water Crisis which caused the suffering of mainly the minorities was a case of environmental injustice. The Flint Water Crisis was a preventable incident. Better regulations and more involvement from the public will greatly avoid the happening of this incident. This is a lesson that raised the public awareness on the safety of our daily necessities to have better water quality despite our urban area. Also, people should not take the resources, such as water use, for granted.