For a rundown of the Flint water crisis, Vox posted an article describing the situation. While a large part of this problem comes from a lack of city funding and a questionable attempt to cut corners with low-income city residents, the Flint water crisis is drawing the attention it deserves. The ethical questions regarding Flint suggest a serious deficiency in government responsibility for low-income cities as well as egg on a serious concern for what to do next.
With the presidential debates in action, the problems in Flint are finally coming to light and getting proper attention. The Michigan political system is being scrutinized for its lack of transparency and honesty with its residents and the entire city is realizing that its unknowingly been poisoned despite complaining to city officials about the mysterious state of their water.
What surprised me most about this was the discovery that there is still a huge amount of lead pipes in the United States, completely dependent on filtration systems to make the water potable. What happens if these systems break ? Will it mean large quantities of the population have to start getting sick in order to draw government attention ?
In Flint’s case, it seems this is what would have to happen. The difference I see for Flint (and other cities that have had lead exposure issues in the past), is the economic dependence on government funding. The economies of most cities impacted by lead exposure are, quite simply, bad. Cities with less money seem to be paid less attention by their governments and suffer because of it. It also seems as though the priority is more politically based than health based. Lots of articles are floating around the internet about the various political implications this crisis has for Michigan state representatives. What doesn’t seem to be getting as much coverage are the efforts of companies and individuals around the world to help.
I came across the Divvy while reading news about Flint and discovered that the company Clearly Filtered has organized a donation campaign to send water filtration systems, pitchers, and bottles up to Flint in order to combat the lead poisoning in their water supply:
http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/02/lead-exposure-gasoline-crime-increase-children-health — an article about the relationship between lead exposure and crime rates
https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/02/09/lead-f09.html — other cities with lead poisoning
TedTalk about lead poisoning in Utica as well as remedies and prevention methods.
The existence of a water shortage today comes from humans contaminating the potable water they have at their disposition. It is easy to blame global warming as the sole source of decreasing levels of water, but when looking at the facts and reports, we come to see that one of the most prominent problems of the lack of clean water comes from our own pollution as humans, whether it be in industrial or non-industrial societies.
In Josh Fox’s documentary Gasland, the issue comes from corporations’ fracking activities. The water still exists in the areas covered, but if consumed it will have extremely dangerous consequences. I was shocked to learn that so many people share common side effects of constant headaches, loss of their sense of taste and smell, and permanent brain damage from drinking their tap water in active hydraulic fracking areas. No matter how much proof is given to these corporations, they still refuse to admit that their activities are endangering humans. Seeing the water bubbling in the streams and the flammable tap in people’s homes has only led the companies to object the disclosure of the chemical content being released in the water.
Image Source: Drilling rig on the Pinedale Anticline (Linda Baker)
Similarly in India, the Yamuna Network report Yamuna: A River In Peril, the Yamuna river is exposed as being a common disposal space for toxic raw sewage and industrial waste. The water now contains high and unhealthy levels of nitrate, spreading waterborne diseases amongst children. This has also led to the total destruction of the river, which now has huge accumulations of white foam covering its surface, turning it into a true sewage canal.
Mouth of Yamuna River, India
Contrarily to the tap water in Gasland, Yamuna is so much more than a source of potable water. The Yamuna River represents values, spirituality, and a holy space: it has been a continuous source of life to families of man for thousands of years.
The issue with the environment in which we live in today, whether it be industrial or non-industrial, is that people take what they please without thinking about the detrimental consequences of their actions. As Sunita Narain describes it, “Cities today need water, so they take water from a river, but they give back sewage.”
AfterÂ I made a post about the pollution in Newtown Creek last week, I came across anÂ article from the New York Times that details a proposal to help remediate the pollution in the Gowanus Canal–another EPA Superfund site in Brooklyn.
Like Newtown Creek, The Gowanus Canal has a history of industrial pollution and dumping that spans centuries. Although waterborne transportation via the Gowanus has declined significantly in recent years, the biggest threat to the water quality today is combined sewage overflow (CSO). The Gowanus contains 14 CSO points, which, when flooded with stormwater,Â divert a combination of stormwater and sewage into a public waterway rather than the wastewater treatment plant. Stormwater that flows over the concrete and picks up environmental toxins before directly reaching the canal is another problem. Currently, the contaminated sediment in the Gowanus averages to 10 feet thick and exceeds 20 feet thick in some areas (source).
In my previous post, I expressed my frustrations regarding how the present conditions of Newtown Creek are largely neglected by the city because it snakes around industrial areas and poorer neighborhoods. The Gowanus Canal, on the other hand, cuts through well-developed neighborhoods like Carroll Gardens and Park Slope. Along the Canal, one can find a Whole Foods Market, shuffleboard club, and rock climbing gym; neglecting to clean the Canal hurts real estate, and the missed economic opportunity of not developing the area overweighs the tremendous effort it will take to clean it.
One interesting effort to restore water quality in the Gowanus is the proposal forÂ Sponge Park. Designed by the design firm DLANDstudio, Sponge Park is to be an aesthetically pleasing park that utilizes a mixture of engineered soil, native plants, and aquatic organisms to draw and break down environmental toxins out of stormwater before it reaches the CSO points or the canal itself.
The park is slated for completion this spring, and I am excited by the precedent it will hopefully set in showing that design and environmental concern can be combined to not only lead to a healthier and cleaner city, but also one that is more livable. It’s sad to think that action is only taken when economics are at stake, but I think projects like Sponge Park are a good first-step in spreading awareness of howÂ taking care of our environment can be in line with larger economic goals.
When the Dutch first arrived to what is now New York City in the 16th century, the land looked nothing like it does now. The ground was not flat and concrete but rather, a network of rolling hills. Its forests, wetlands, marshes, and estuaries supported a rich and biodiverse ecosystem, and the Native Americans who occupied the land were able to thrive agriculturally thanks to the fertile soil. Oysters thrived on the rocky coasts, while large mammals such as black bears and mountain lions roamed the land.
For those who are interested, the Welikia Project is a really comprehensive resource for learning about what New York used to be!
As the land was colonized, the natural habitats were disturbed to make way for human occupancy. Changes occurred particularly rapidly after industrialization hit the country in the late 19th century, and factories replaced the salt marshes lining the coast of New York City.
I grew up in East Williamsburg in Brooklyn, and an environmental issue that has always existed as background noise was the pollution in Newtown Creek, which runs from the East River and through Northern Brooklyn/Southern Queens. During the 1800s, the Creek was used as a major industrial waterway and helped to transport goods for many industries. The fish, large wading birds, and bivalves that lived in the Creek were killed off as it became increasingly polluted with wastes from oil distilleries, sugar refineries, glue factories, and canneries. The industrial dumping that took place in the Creek was largely unregulated and continue to this day, and today, the Creek also suffers from the added stress of combined sewage overflows (CSOs) that the wastewater treatment plant can’t handle. In 2010, the EPA designated Newtown Creek as a federal Superfund site.
I began photographing the Creek in 2014, when my photographic practice began to align with my environmental concern. Despite the reputation that the Williamsburg/Greenpoint/Long Island City area currently has as a haven for wealthy millennials, the damage done to the Creek is largely hidden from sight and obscured by the towering condos. While I was photographing the Creek (mainly by going though industrial parking lots and a few open access points), I was struck by the stark contrast between all the trash by the Creek and the shiny reputation of the neighborhoods that the Creek snakes through. When I drove through the neighborhood with my family as a kid, the Creek’s sulfurous and sewagey smell dominated the air in summer days. The same smell is there today, but it is partially masked by the aroma of artisanal breads and expensive brunch.
When researching my project, I got in touch with the Newtown Creek Alliance, which was a tremendous resource in connecting me both with people who knew a lot about the history as well as with groups that are working to restore the Creek. Efforts are being made to not only physically clean the Creek of litter and oil, but also to reintroduce the local flora and fauna of native grasses and filter feeders. By restoring the ecology to a state that is closer to the wetlands Brooklyn used to be, researchers are hoping bring back the wildlife which was aggressively eliminated centuries ago.
While learning about the damage done to Newtown Creek over hundreds of years by human activity was extremely upsetting, getting involved in its restoration efforts was a really eye-opening experience. Reading about large-scale issues such as global climate change in the news can be overwhelming, but looking at how environmental restoration is done at a small-scale and local level has been an amazingly rewarding experience for me, and I encourage everyone to take that first step in reaching out to make changes in areas that matter to you.
In July of 2014 American rap artist Macklemore was a part of a campaign to help the residents of Seattle Washington’s King County become more aware of the damage they create by not being more cautious with what they put in the toilet. Macklemore took his famous song Thrift Shop and changed the lyrics for a campaign created by Seattle-based Golden Lasso.
According to Pam Elardo (director of King County’s Wastewater Treatment Division), “King County spent $120,000 transporting improperly flushed waste to landfills last year.” This PSA program cost the taxpayers $123,000; three thousand dollars more than the line item cost for removing problem waste.
While this might seem like a difficult project to sell to a community, Pam Elardo’s record of commitment and integrity was probably a factor in getting this project through. An engineering graduate of Northwestern University, past member of the Peace Corps, and founder (1999) of The Living Earth Institute, Pam is an example of one person making a difference through action and example.
While licensing for the musical portion of the “Flushing Awesome” campaign officially ended in fall of 2014, its overarching message is still strong and helping to protect our environment.
Here is another Public Service Announcement (PSA) by Golden Lasso from this campaign:
Having become aware of how important music is to driving the message of moving images, I can’t help but wonder about where licensing leaves off and fair use policies begin with regard to “One to Flush” and its relationship to A Chorus Line.