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LuckyGuy's avatar

Is lead, Pb, in drinking water truly a case of Environmental Racism?

Asked by LuckyGuy (39456points) January 18th, 2017

In general, there are higher levels of lead in drinking water in older (~pre-1925), city communities that used lead for water pipes. Most of these buildings are inhabited by low income, people of color. Some activist agencies are calling this Environmental Racism. Is it?

Think about the city where you live. Which ethnic group lived there first, for decades, by the way? What group moved in next and lived there for decades? What group followed them? As an example, I can think of an area (Brooklyn) that was first inhabited by the Irish for decades, then the Italians, then the Jews, then…etc. Didn’t all the previous ethnic groups – as well as the current group – use the same pipes? Didn’t they all have lead in the water?
Why is this called racism?
Shouldn’t the target simply be old, pre-1925 buildings rather than calling it a race issue? Does that deflect the problem? Who benefits by calling it a race issue?

Corollary: Does anyone know of a source for lead testing strips at a reasonable price. I can buy a kit for ~$25 that tests ~20 different things one time. I only want to test lead. I’d like to pay $25 for 10–20 lead testing strips. Does that exist? I’d like to see something like 0, 5, 10, 15, 25, 50 ppb.

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15 Answers

zenvelo's avatar

The issue of “Environmental racism” doesn’t arise from those who have replaced previous generations of residents. It has more to do with efforts to mitigate lead only in white and middle class neighborhoods.

(The issue in Flint, Michigan has to do with the state switching water sources to save money. The previous water source did not have a lead problem.)

Call_Me_Jay's avatar

older (~pre-1925), city communities that used lead for water pipes. Most of these buildings are inhabited by low income, people of color.

You’ll need to provide some facts to back up that and your premise that lead is being addressed only as a racial issue.

Otherwise it looks like you’re battling a straw man.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@Call_Me_Jay I was listening to a speaker on NPR yesterday. The guest kept using the terms Environmental Racism and people of color in her discussion. I had never heard the expression before.
Pre-1925, lead pipes were common. After that date they started to move to copper. Some of the older communities had lead infrastructure.

When I heard the speaker I started to get mad. She seemed to make race the issue. .Anyone who lived there was/is exposed. Race has nothing to do with it. I figured lead pipes in the old building is the issue. IMO that’s where the energy should be spent.

She had statistics the showed that a higher percentage of POC live in areas have high lead. She called that Environmental Racism.

rojo's avatar

No, I call bullshit on that.

jca's avatar

I think it’s a case of the lady on NPR trying to be dramatic and get people to pay attention to her crap.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Well, it’s a matter of money, really. The poor pay fewer taxes, and don’t have the money to hire lawyers to give them a voice. I lived in an apartment, the lower floor of a 3 story, very big old house, for 4 years before I bought my own house. Pretty sure it didn’t meet code when we lived there. In fact, I got word that the city demolished the house recently. Lots of memories in that house. :(

As to who lived here before…in my house, it was farmers. They had wells, not running water. This house was built in 1909. It’s been upgraded about a zillion times by the previous owners and us. Of course, we paid out of our own pocket for the upgrades.

flutherother's avatar

During the 20th century blood lead levels deemed acceptable have steadily declined and levels once thought safe are now considered hazardous with no safe threshold. Children are particularly susceptible to lead exposure as it can affect brain development. For this reason old lead pipes should be replaced as quickly as possible. If there is evidence that the pipes in coloured neighbourhoods are being replaced less quickly than elsewhere then it could be seen as racist.

gorillapaws's avatar

I think it’s more Environmental Classism than Racism (which admittedly does disproportionately affect African Americans due to other problems in our society).

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

I think that damed fool on NPR is doing people of color a great disservice. Look at the reactions here. They are mostly negative. This is strictly a socio-economic problem and everyone knows it. Nobody put those people in those house purposely. Nobody forced lead plumbing on them after they moved in. Any minority still in the process of upward mobility could have moved into those homes. Nobody specifically chose people of color. It is not racism.

This person on NPR, and others who attempt to complicate these issues further by claiming racism where there is no racism just piss people off and make it easier for them to walk away from a problem. The very people who can help just shake their heads and walk away. I’ve seen this since the Vietnam War, especially on the Left during that time, and I see it now on both the Left and the Right.

Somebody should just bitch-slap them all. I suspect careerist when I see this happen. One thing is for sure, if they do happen to retard progress toward a solution, while being on the vanguard of a célèbre, what do they care? They have a job for life.

BellaB's avatar

@LuckyGuy , do you have a link to what you heard? I’d be interested in hearing it or reading a transcript. The most recent thing I found on NPR re lead pipes was from last week and doesn’t sound/read like what you’re describing.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@BellaB I was driving to the welding shop about 11:00 listening to WXXI. I am not home now so I can’t check. Later.

Call_Me_Jay's avatar

I Googled the WXXI schedule, this looks like the audio

1a – Lead, Landfills, and Low-Income Neighborhoods
“The water crisis in Flint, Michigan is ongoing, and there have been even more devastating discoveries of contaminants like lead in water systems across the country. Many of the affected communities are poor and people of color. Why are these neighborhoods so often victimized when it comes to environmental health issues?”


BellaB's avatar

@Call_Me_Jay , thanks – I will listen/read in the a.m. :)

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

In the case of Flint, Michigan:

Flint, Michigan, through a combination fo poor money management and political corruption, went into a financial crisis in 2002–2004. Never fully recovering, and with continued political corruption, they went into another, worse financial emergency in 2011 which continues to this day.

“In April 2014, as an austerity measure, Flint switched its water supply from Lake Huron (via Detroit) to the Flint River. The problem was compounded with the fact that anticorrosive measures were not implemented. After two independent studies, lead poisoning caused by the water was found in the area’s population. This has led to several lawsuits, the resignation of several officials, thirteen criminal indictments, and a federal public health state of emergency for all of Genesee County.”

The 2010 census shows the population of Flint to be 37.4% White and 56.6% African American.

In the years from 2000 to the present, although the Mayors of Flint have been white with a _strong mayoral form of government, the 9-member city council has consistently had no less than 6 people of color, in proportion to the racial demographics of the city.

The present mayor of Flint is up on charges of diverting funds meant to solve the crisis to her own campaign fund.

Nov. 6, 2013: Flint voters elect two convicted felons, two others with bankruptcies to city council

Flint’s Water Crisis No Accident

Newsweek column calls Flint ‘cheapskate city that poisoned its children’

This is a matter of poor choices for leadership by the people of Flint over many years, and good old fashioned American political corruption—not racial cleansing as has been said by some activists.

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