Despite having endured lead-laden tap water for years, Flint pays some of the highest water rates in the US. Several residents cited bills upwards of $200 per month for tap water they refuse to touch.
But just two hours away, in the tiny town of Evart, creeks lined by wildflowers run with clear water. The town is so small, the fairground, McDonald’s, high school and church are all within a block. But in a town of only 1,503 people, there are a dozen wells pumping water from the underground aquifer. This is where the beverage giant Nestlé pumps almost 100,000 times what an average Michigan resident uses into plastic bottles that are sold all over the midwest for around $1.
To use this natural resource, Nestlé pays $200 per year
How is this right? Nestlé should have to provide clean drinking water to Flint as part of their deal, or even better, pay to upgrade the water mains, especially since Nestlé is trying to increase the amount of water they pump out:
Now, Nestlé wants more Michigan water. In a recent permit application, the company asked to pump 210m gallons per year from Evart, a 60% increase, and for no more than it pays today.
Access to clean water should be a human right, all over the world, including in Michigan. Private corporations shouldn’t be able to profit from a public good.
The fight continues:
Michigan’s second-highest court has dealt a legal blow to Nestlé’s Ice Mountain water brand, ruling that the company’s commercial water-bottling operation is “not an essential public service” or a public water supply.
The court of appeals ruling is a victory for Osceola township, a small mid-Michigan town that blocked Nestlé from building a pumping station that doesn’t comply with its zoning laws. But the case could also throw a wrench in Nestlé’s attempts to privatize water around the country.
The fight to stop Nestlé from taking America’s water to sell in plastic bottles
If it is to carry out such plans, then it will need to be legally recognized as a public water source that provides an essential public service. The Michigan environmental attorney Jim Olson, who did not represent Osceola township but has previously battled Nestlé in court, said any claim that the Swiss multinational is a public water utility “is ludicrous”.
“What this lays bare is the extent to which private water marketers like Nestlé, and others like them, go [in] their attempts to privatize sovereign public water, public water services, and the land and communities they impact,” Olson said.
The ruling, made on Tuesday, could also lead state environmental regulators to reconsider permits that allow Nestlé to pump water in Michigan.
The Osceola case stems from Nestle’s attempt to increase the amount of water it pulls from a controversial wellhead in nearby Evart from about 250 gallons per minute to 400 gallons per minute. It needs to build the pump in a children’s campground in Osceola township to transport the increased load via a pipe system.
The township in 2017 rejected the plans based on its zoning laws, and Nestlé subsequently sued. A lower court wrote in late 2017 that water was essential for life and bottling water was an “essential public service” that met a demand, which trumped Osceola township’s zoning laws.
However, a three-judge panel in the appellate court reversed the decision.
The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday barred reporters from three news organizations from an event on the impact of toxic chemicals on drinking water at the agency’s headquarters.
The event, during which the E.P.A. administrator Scott Pruitt declared that addressing the impact of a class of man-made chemicals was a “national priority,” came at a time when Mr. Pruitt is the subject of at least 12 federal investigations.
Among those denied entry from the morning session of the planned two-day event was a reporter from The Associated Press, Ellen Knickmeyer. When she requested to speak to an E.P.A. public affairs official, she was “grabbed by the shoulders and shoved out of the building by a security guard,” according to a report from the wire service.
Also turned away were Corbin Hiar, a reporter for E & E News, and Rene Marsh, of CNN, along with a camera operator and a producer from the cable network.
How is that even acceptable behavior for a thug like Scott Pruitt? In a normal administration, Pruitt would have resigned in disgrace as soon as this despicable action became public, but then in a normal administration, Pruitt would have been fired long ago.
What was the topic that Pruitt wanted hidden? How polluted our national water supply is, specifically in this case by perfluorinated compounds (PFAS), used mostly in teflon and fire-fighting foam.
As Politico reported:
Scott Pruitt’s EPA and the White House sought to block publication of a federal health study on a nationwide water-contamination crisis, after one Trump administration aide warned it would cause a “public relations nightmare,” newly disclosed emails reveal.
The intervention early this year — not previously disclosed — came as HHS’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry was preparing to publish its assessment of a class of toxic chemicals that has contaminated water supplies near military bases, chemical plants and other sites from New York to Michigan to West Virginia.
The study would show that the chemicals endanger human health at a far lower level than EPA has previously called safe, according to the emails.
“The public, media, and Congressional reaction to these numbers is going to be huge,” one unidentified White House aide said in an email forwarded on Jan. 30 by James Herz, a political appointee who oversees environmental issues at the OMB. The email added: “The impact to EPA and [the Defense Department] is going to be extremely painful. We (DoD and EPA) cannot seem to get ATSDR to realize the potential public relations nightmare this is going to be.”
More than three months later, the draft study remains unpublished, and the HHS unit says it has no scheduled date to release it for public comment. Critics say the delay shows the Trump administration is placing politics ahead of an urgent public health concern — something they had feared would happen after agency leaders like Pruitt started placing industry advocates in charge of issues like chemical safety.
In a much-watched case, a Michigan agency has approved Nestlé’s plan to boost the amount of water it takes from the state. The request attracted a record number of public comments — with 80,945 against and 75 in favor.
Nestlé’s request to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to pump 576,000 gallons of water each day from the White Pine Springs well in the Great Lakes Basin was “highly controversial,” member station Michigan Radio reports. But despite deep public opposition, the agency concluded that the company’s plan met with legal standards.
Under the plan, Nestlé will be approved to pump up to 400 gallons of water per minute from the well, rather than the 250 gallons per minute it had been extracting. The company first applied for the new permit in July 2016.
Water is a complicated and sore subject in many areas, but in few places more so than in Michigan, where a crisis has raged for years over high levels of lead and other dangerous heavy metals in the water in Flint. And back in 2014, Detroit resorted to shutting off water to thousands of customers as it fought bankruptcy.
With that recent history as a backdrop, Nestlé’s plan to boost the amount of water it takes from the Great Lakes State drew attention and added another dimension to a debate over whether water should be seen as a commodity, a commercial product — or a human right.
Nestlé’s well is in western Michigan, near the town of Evart…The company bottles the water for sale under its Ice Mountain label.
Disgusting, really that Nestlé gets to sell, for profit, water that is taken from the public at a rate of 400 gallons a minute. By my quick math: 400 gallons x 60 minutes x 24 hours x 365 days= approximately 210,240,000 gallons a year; roughly 1,681,920,000 Iron Mountain 16 ml bottles that are sold for $3.99 in airports, or cheaper at, for instance, Target). Even accounting for the costs of “extraction”, plastic bottles, shipping, labeling, and so on, that’s a damn nice profit margin. Almost 2 billion 16 ml bottles a year, for basically free!
Thirsty? Side view of discarded plastic water bottles
Especially because of this:
in Mecosta County, Nestlé is not required to pay anything to extract the water, besides a small permitting fee to the state and the cost of leases to a private landowner. In fact, the company received $13 million in tax breaks from the state to locate the plant in Michigan. The spokesperson for Nestlé in Michigan is Deborah Muchmore. She’s the wife of Dennis Muchmore—Governor Rick Snyder’s chief of staff, who just retired and registered to be a lobbyist.
Less than a year after Waukesha secured permission to withdraw more than 7 million gallons a day from the lake, Taiwan-based Foxconn Technology Group could end up winning access to a similar amount of fresh water for its new Wisconsin factory with merely a stroke of a pen from Gov. Scott Walker, the company’s chief political sponsor.
Foxconn’s bid for Lake Michigan water is the latest test of the decade-old Great Lakes Compact, an agreement among the region’s states intended to make it almost impossible to direct water outside the natural basin of the Great Lakes unless it is added to certain products, such as beer and soft drinks.
At issue with both Waukesha and Foxconn is an exemption that allows limited diversions outside the basin for “a group of largely residential customers that may also serve industrial, commercial, and other institutional operators.”
Of the 7 million gallons of water withdrawn daily for Foxconn, 4.3 million gallons would be treated and returned to the lake and the rest would be lost, mostly from evaporation in the company’s cooling system, according to the application sent to Wisconsin officials.
That amount of lost water falls below a daily limit of 5 million gallons that would trigger a review by other Great Lakes states, including those that lost out on the factory.
“Lead in Flint is the tip of the iceberg,” notes Dr. Richard J. Jackson, former director of the National Center for Environmental Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Flint is a teachable moment for America.”
In Flint, 4.9 percent of children tested for lead turned out to have elevated levels. That’s inexcusable. But in 2014 in New York State outside of New York City, the figure was 6.7 percent. In Pennsylvania, 8.5 percent. On the west side of Detroit, one-fifth of the children tested in 2014 had lead poisoning. In Iowa for 2012, the most recent year available, an astonishing 32 percent of children tested had elevated lead levels. (I calculated most of these numbers from C.D.C. data.)
Across America, 535,000 children ages 1 through 5 suffer lead poisoning, by C.D.C. estimates.
“We are indeed all Flint,” says Dr. Philip Landrigan, a professor of preventive medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “Lead poisoning continues to be a silent epidemic in the United States.”
and this short-sighted austerity by Congress is just sickening:
Some 24 million homes in America have deteriorated lead paint, of which occupants are often unaware. If a toddler regularly breathes lead-contaminated dust, or sucks a finger that has touched the dust, that child may suffer lifelong brain damage.
Yet anti-lead programs have been dismantled in recent years because in 2012 Congress slashed the funding for lead programs at the C.D.C. by 93 percent. After an outcry, some money was restored, but even now these lead programs have only a bit more than half the funding they once had.
I’ve owned a reverse osmosis water filtration system for a long time, but it only cleans my drinking/cooking water, not the water in my entire house. How about you?
If it is not possible or cost-effective to remove the lead source, flushing the water system before using the water for drinking or cooking may be an option. Any time a particular faucet has not been used for several hours (approximately 6 or more), you can flush the system by running the water for about 1-2 minutes or until the water becomes as cold as it will get. Flush each faucet individually before using the water for drinking or cooking. You can use the water flushed from the tap to water plants, wash dishes or clothing, or clean. Avoid cooking with or drinking hot tap water because hot water dissolves lead more readily than cold water does. Do not use hot tap water to make cereals, drinks or mix baby formula. You may draw cold water after flushing the tap and then heat it if needed.
You may also wish to consider water treatment methods such as reverse osmosis, distillation, and carbon filters specially designed to remove lead. Typically these methods are used to treat water at only one faucet. Contact your local health department for recommended procedures. If you want to know more about these filters, please contact NSF International, an organization for public health and safety through standards development, product certification, education, and risk management. Remember to have your well water tested regularly, at least once a year, to make sure the problem is controlled.
America needs the political willpower to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, and soon. Tax cuts for the wealthy don’t help when you need to replace lead pipes serving drinking water, nor do tax breaks for wealthy corporations help rebuild bridges about to collapse.
The L-pocalypse is coming, the early effects of the L-pocalypse is here. The New York City subway train is the most direct route between Brooklyn and Manhattan, servicing some 300,000 people every day. News recently leaked that the city’s transit authority, the MTA, is considering shutting the train down as early as 2017 for between one and three years to repair floodwater damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. That prospect understandably has many of those who live, work, or own businesses in north Brooklyn quite upset; Thursday’s meeting of the “L Train Coalition” at Brooklyn Bowl made clear that the dialogue between concerned citizens, elected leaders, and the MTA is going to be contentious, at best.
The upcoming plight of a gentrified neighborhood in New York City is mainly a local story, sure, but as infrastructure crumbles around the United States, pollution worsens, and as climate change brings us ever-increasing and severe natural disasters, cities around the country are going to be faced with very expensive problems for which there are no good solutions.
Surely, similar town hall meetings are playing out around the country, where residents are upset that, through a combination of underfunding, tax cuts, climate change, and simple aging, services that are taken for granted such as functioning roads, subway systems, and lead-free drinking water are no longer a given.
and in microcosm: the water infrastructure of Flint, MI:
Poor political decisions caused the crisis, but it wouldn’t have happened at all if the lead pipes weren’t there to begin with. The current solution is a stopgap—spiking the water supply with an anticorrosive chemical. But if the powers that be want to eliminate the risk completely, they will ultimately have to replace all the lead plumbing. A September estimate, only recently released by Michigan governor Rick Snyder, puts the cost of replacing all the lead pipes in Flint at $60 million. And the project will take 15 years.
The basic challenge: dig up several thousand miles of poisonous pipe buried as deep as dead bodies. Oh, for Pete’s sake. People can only take bottled water baths for so long. “I don’t understand, are they only going to fix four pipes a day?” says Harold Harrington, business manager of Flint’s plumber’s union, the United Association Local 370. He says with the right kind of investment, the city—or state, or whoever ends up taking responsibility—could move a lot faster.
Most of the corroded pipes in Flint—20,000 to 25,000 in total—are what is known as service lines. These are one inch in diameter, and connect homes to the larger, main pipes running under the middles of streets. (The mains are cast iron.) Because Flint is in Michigan, and Michigan is a very cold place, the service lines have to be buried about three and a half feet deep, below the frost line. “But most of the main pipes are between five to seven feet deep, so the service lines are at a similar depth,” says Martin Kaufman, a geographer at the University of Michigan-Flint. So that’s the basic challenge: dig up several hundred miles of poisonous pipe buried as deep as dead bodies.
Before calling in the backhoes, somebody needs to figure out where all those pipes are buried. Not just which houses they’re in, either. Remember, the pipes are an inch wide, and buried under roads, sidewalks, and front lawns, beneath lattices of cables, fiber optic wires, and gas lines. Digging in the wrong place would be both dangerous and expensive. Kaufman is one of those in charge of figuring out where all the lead pipes are buried, but the pipelayers of yore didn’t do him many favors. “The recordkeeping of the city is not very good,” he says. “They kept information on three by five index cards, a lot of which are smeared.” The only definite way to check if a pipe is lead or not is to scrape the pipe’s interior as it comes into the house. “If the residue is gray and nonmagnetic, it is lead,” he says.
Replacing a typical service line takes three people. “You need an operator to run the equipment, one guy hand digging to make sure you don’t get into any other utilities, and another guy getting the floor busted out in the basement,” says Harrington. As long as they don’t run into any problems, the whole job should take the team about half a day. Harrington estimates that he could reasonably call in about 20 such teams to work full time until the job is done. Assuming the rate is forty pipes a day, roughly 249 days a year (nights and weekends, y’all), the Flint plumber’s militia could bang the job out in just over two years.
Harrington says digging up and replacing a forty foot length of lead pipe costs around $3,000. This does not take into account externalities like repaving streets and sidewalks, fixing any damage done to the home, and resodding lawns. Multiply $3,000 by 20,000 pipes and you get $60 million dollars—which suggests that the figure quoted in Michigan governor Snyder’s email is probably a lowball.
How many communities in America need new water lines? Nobody is quite sure, but it is a lot.
It’s a problem that’s much bigger than Flint: there are millions of lead pipes all across America, putting children at risk of stunted growth, brain damage and a lifetime of diminished potential. Just this week, residents of Sebring, a town of 8,000 in rural Ohio, were told not to touch their tap water out of lead fears similar to Flint’s.
“This is a situation that has the potential to occur in however many places around the country there are lead pipes,” Jerry Paulson, emeritus professor of pediatrics and environmental health at George Washington University, said in an interview. “Unless and until those pipes are removed, those communities are at some degree of risk.”
Roughly 10 million American homes and buildings receive water from service lines that are at least partially lead, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Service lines are the pipes connecting water mains to people’s houses. Lead ones are mostly found in the Midwest and Northeast.
Despite the life-altering consequences of lead poisoning, there is no national plan to get rid of those pipes. A top reason for continuing to use lead service lines instead of immediately digging them up is that utilities can treat water so it forms a coating on the interior of the pipes — a corrosion barrier that helps prevent lead particles from dislodging and traveling to your faucet. But if the water chemistry changes, the corrosion controls can fail.
In the old, can-do America, both political parties would agree that fixing dilapidated infrastructure would be a good national goal, and would seek consensus on how to ramp up the work force and financing for the project. In the sad, tired America of the 21st C.E., seemingly only Bernie Sanders even brings the topic up. Consider all the good paying jobs, in communities all around the country, that would benefit from fixing roads, bridges, sewer lines, power grids, water lines, bullet trains, and so on and so forth. Why is it a partisan struggle to even discuss the future? Sure, we are talking about hundreds of billions of dollars, or even more, but so what? Do Wall Street corporations and the oil industry really need more tax breaks to remain in business?
Long time readers of this blog know we feel strongly that America would have much better served if we had invested money in rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure instead of invading Iraq. American taxpayers spent trillions of dollars, basically pissed away in the sands of Iraq and Afghanistan, most of which did America no good. I guess if you were a defense contractor, you did ok, replenishing supplies of jet fuel, bullets and bombs for the military, but wouldn’t that money have been better spent fixing bridges, water pipes, sewer pipes and the like in places taxpayers live in?
The water crisis in Flint, Mich., has exposed the danger that lead could potentially leach into the drinking water of millions of Americans, showing what can go wrong if aging infrastructure isn’t properly monitored and maintained.
Lead is common in pipes across the country, mostly in service lines linking street pipes to people’s homes. Millions of pipes now in use were installed well before 1986, when federal law banned lead pipes and solder, and some date back to the 1800s.
The price tag just to dig up and replace as many as eight million lead service lines into homes and businesses could easily reach tens of billions of dollars. The task is complicated by the fact that utilities and cities often don’t know where such lines are buried. And tens of millions of other water lines have lead solder or fixtures that also can contaminate drinking water.
Nationwide, lead solder that seals pipes and joints exists in about 81 million homes, or roughly two-thirds of households, and leaded brass fixtures, another source of contamination, are in the vast majority of homes, said Marc Edwards, an environmental engineering professor at Virginia Tech.
“While Flint is an outlier, it confirms everything that we have been speaking out against for the last 10 years,” said Mr. Edwards, who tested Flint drinking water samples last summer, revealing high lead levels.
Experts generally agree that the lead service lines that connect water mains to homes are a leading culprit for lead contamination in water and need to be removed.
“It’s going to be a huge financial challenge,” said G. Tracy Mehan III, executive director for governmental affairs at American Water Works Association, a trade group representing 4,000 utilities across the U.S., not including Flint’s. Just 2% of water utilities surveyed by the group last year said they had all the financial resources to cover future pipeline upgrades, which would include replacing lead pipes and fixtures.
Replacing Flint’s lead lines, solder and joints could take 15 years and $60 million, according to a September estimate by an aide to Gov. Rick Snyder. On Wednesday, the governor said it was too soon to estimate the cost.