By: Ryan Burke, 1st Year Global Epidemiology
Today, March 22nd, is World Water Day. It is meant to draw attention to the scarcity of potable water around the world, focusing on specific issues each year. This year the focus is on water and jobs. At first glance you may think maybe this is drawing attention to all the work that goes into making water potable, or helps deliver water to the people. A few Rollins students, some of the Center for Global Safe WASH faculty, and I decided to focus on environmental racism in the United States for World Water Day.
Recently the story of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan has dominated the news cycle. This is not the first time a financial decision endangered the water supply of an impoverished community. These communities typically are lower on the socioeconomic scale and live in harsher conditions than many Americans. They lack the political clout and money to fight against decisions made by large companies and governments and are often pressured into acceptance. In many cases these vulnerable communities’ voices are ignored and the rest of the world never hears about the problem.
For example, drinking water in Warren County, North Carolina a primarily African-American community was contaminated by a Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB)-contaminated waste landfill. The scientific evidence and the community outrage was not enough to prevent the creation of the PCB landfill. It was not until two decades after the initial protests that the state and federal government began to clean up the PCB landfill.
History is repeating itself in Flint, Michigan as the community’s outcry of contaminated water were largely ignored until recently. Concerned citizen’s questions about the water quality after the switch from Lake Huron to the Flint River went unanswered. Flint government officials issued public services announcements about the water and left it up to individuals to improve their water source by getting a point-of-use filter. This action preyed on the people who did not have the resources to get these filters. While the government emails that have been released from the Flint case do not once mention race, ethnicity, or income but this water crisis was the result of environmental racism. Warren County and Flint are just two examples of environmental racism in the United States that received media attention. For this reason we devoted our World Water Day to shedding light on this subject and past examples of environmental racism and how it has impacted water quality for many marginalized people.
Here at Rollins we developed our own World Water Day that includes interactive presenters and a panel discussion which will highlight relevant scholarly research, bioinformatics data, legal and medical expert opinion, and informed discussion on the little known challenges of ensuring safe water in a developed country. The panel will be made up of local experts with a multidisciplinary background and will examine the environmental, human rights, and regulatory significance of the Flint water crisis as well as past water contamination events. The panel will discuss the disadvantages people face when water regulations fail and are ignored as well as the implications these events have on our continued access to safe water in America. We will use our voices as well as student art to create awareness and educational messaging, fundraise, and reach out to large companies to help Flint during this time of crisis via social media. The chemistry department will create a solution to mimic the water found in Flint. All activities were created in the hope of raising awareness of environmental racism so that we may help put an end to this injustice.
My experience helping plan this year’s World Water Day is just one example of why I love going to school and working with the students and faculty of Rollins. If you have an idea you can find people that want to listen and work on it with you. Collaborating with faculty across different backgrounds in Rollins and the other schools here at Emory is something I would suggest to everyone. Public Health is a multidisciplinary field and here at Rollins it is incredibly easy to reach out to people with different academic backgrounds to generate incredible ideas. Whatever your interests are in, Rollins provides you an opportunity to combine them into a cohesive product that can make an impact on the world around you. So, congratulations on being accepted to Rollins! I hope to meet many of you at Visit Emory.
For those who are concerned and would like to learn more or discuss the Flint Water Crisis, the following events are being held on campus at Rollins:
Flint Water Crisis: “What Happens when Regulation Fails.” Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016, 4:00 p.m.- 6:00 p.m. Claudia Nance Rollins Building, Room 1000.
Rollins Speaks. Wednesday, March 30th, 2016, 12:00 p.m.- 1:000 p.m.Claduia Nance Rollins Building, Room 4001.