Thursday, September 8, 2016

We're still drinking lead for the rich

Above: A water line project in San Francisco, funded by the New Deal's Public Works Administration, ca. 1936-1940. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

The nation's drinking water crisis is still with us, even though we've stuck our heads in the sand and hoped it would go away. Every few days, several more areas find that their water supply is contaminated with lead. For example:

Oregon: "Mapleton schools find lead in in water," Siuslaw News, September 6, 2016

New Hampshire: "Nine Manchester schools found to have high lead levels in drinking water," New Hampshire Union Leader, September 2, 2016

Ohio: "Norwalk schools turn off drinking fountains & faucets after high levels of lead," Cleveland 19 News, August 26, 2016

Missouri: "Lead found in drinking water at some St. Louis public schools," Fox2Now, St. Louis, August 18, 2016

Massachusetts: "7 More Boston Schools Found To Have ‘Unacceptable’ Lead Levels In Drinking Water," CBS Boston, August 16, 2016

Montana: "Sheridan residents on alert after lead detected in water," Independent Record, August 4, 2016.

Colorado: "High lead levels found in drinking water at 38 Jeffco elementary schools," Columbine Courier, July 28, 2016 

Georgia: "Elevated lead levels found in more Atlanta schools’ water," The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 13, 2016. 

Pennsylvania: "Investigation finds some Pittsburgh homes have water laced with lead," Action 4 News, July 11, 2016.

The American Society of Civil Engineers has repeatedly warned us about our nation's aging drinking water infrastructure (see, e.g., here, here, and here); and the CDC has warned us about the harmful effects of lead, even small amounts. During the New Deal, Harold Ickes and his Public Works Administration said: "Water is life. Apparently this fundamental fact must be learned on the battlefront of experience again and again. When this lesson is forgotten, even for a moment, the consequences are immediate and disastrous... engineers everywhere to whom the Nation has entrusted the purity of its water supply must be eternally vigilant" (America Builds: The Record of PWA, 1939, pp. 169-170).

We've ignored all this.

I've also tried to sound the alarm bell these past several years. But, of course, since I don't have Koch money backing me up, and since I don't have gobs of money to give to politicians, my voice--like millions of other Americans--is (and will continue to be) ignored. As scholars have recently highlighted, the voices of ordinary Americans are routinely stomped into nothingness by the desires of the super-wealthy (see "U.S. Policies Favor The Wealthy, Interest Groups, Study Shows," Huffington Post, April 15, 2014).

So, as a society, we will continue to gulp down lead to please the rich, in the firm belief that we can't tax the holy "JOB CREATORS" more, lest they get angry and take our jobs away. Ultimately, the luxury and desires of the holy "JOB CREATORS" trumps clean water. Isn't that an amazing cultural philosophy?

Things were different back in the 1930s. Under the Roosevelt Administration, enormous investments were made into the nation's infrastructure, including thousands of waterworks projects. New water mains, new consumer connections to water mains, new water treatment plants, new reservoirs, and more. Roosevelt and his fellow New Deal policymakers did this with increased funding, more progressive taxation, and with work-relief programs for the unemployed. We're still utilizing many of these projects today, well past their intended lifespan.

So great were the New Deal's investment in America's infrastructure, that even Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump have praised it (see my blog post here).

We could make the same investments today, in part by providing infrastructure jobs for many of the nation's 20 million un- and underemployed Americans. We won't, of course, because... well... wealthy Americans don't like that idea too much. Research indicates that only 8% of wealthy Americans like the idea of a public works program for the unemployed, while 53% of everyone else likes the idea. And since the wealthy control public policy--through their campaign contributions, special favors, and Lord knows what else--there will be no public works program for the unemployed. Instead, we will continue to drink lead (and other toxic chemicals) for the rich.

Also see "Toxic Chemicals Contaminate Drinking Water For Over 6 Million Americans, Study Finds," International Business Times, August 11, 2016

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