By Kay Whatley, Editor
In a recent interview by Stephen Colbert, Erin Brockovich’s brought to light that the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, is “just the tip of the iceberg” and a “national crisis.” During the interview, she lists other US residential areas dealing with undrinkable water.
In the Colbert interview, Ms. Brockovich discussed the lead-in-water situation in Flint, Michigan, and discussed a similar situation that had come to light in Sebring, Ohio. Both municipalities were slow to release information on water testing that showed dangerous lead levels in the water. Wondering where the rest of the iceberg might be, I did a little digging online. More water problems were shown to be in these US cities and towns:
- Warren, Ohio (lead in drinking water)
- In Pennsylvania, multiple locations have lead levels higher than Flint: Allentown, Altoona, Bethlehem, Chester, Easton, Erie, Harrisburg, Johnstown, Lancaster, Lebanon, Norristown, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Reading, Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, Williamsport, and York (according to this VOX.com recent analysis of Pennsylvania Dept of Health Report)
- Illinois (see CDC’s State Surveillance Data, slightly outdated?)
Additional reports and articles online hint at lead contamination in Chicago IL, Louisville KY, and New York NY, though I found little data confirming this and these cities tout their water quality on their official websites.
This list is incomplete, as it is the result of a few days’ search restricted to lead contamination in water. Plus, this article does not include locations found to have lead and other contaminants in the soil, or private complexes/campuses that were found to have lead contamination in their water — including one medical center that provided free bottled water because of lead contamination in their facility’s water supply! This brief article also does not cover past public issues with water/soil contamination, such as Hinkley CA, Globeville in CO, the Dan River area in NC, or superfund sites. It also doesn’t cover the massive soil and water contamination on Native American Reservations across the US.
As more information is released by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state and local agencies, likely more water treatment locations will come to light across the nation.
Perhaps most alarming is a 2013 report from the American Society of Civil Engineers, which stated: “At the dawn of the 21st century, much of our drinking water infrastructure is nearing the end of its useful life.” As public piping systems, and private home pipes, continue to age, more contaminants will end up in the water coming out of taps. Government funding to update infrastructure is not necessarily keeping up with the need. For homeowners with old pipes, some municipalities add chemicals to the water that can minimize the amount of corrosion — leaching of toxins like lead — inside a home’s pipes.
To find out more about lead in water, or general contamination of water, air, and soil, visit the Environmental Protection Agency main website, or locate the EPA office nearest to you. Visiting the website of your local/county government may help you find answers to questions about local toxin/lead issues.
Erin Brockovich is a legal clerk/activist known for the film, Erin Brockovich, which was based on the real-life legal battle against Pacific Gas and Electric Company over Hinkley, California’s groundwater contamination with chromium.
**** UPDATE MARCH 8, 2016: Dukeville NC residents receive letters warning of water dangers – thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/04/23/3649984/coal-ash-update-dukeville.
Ed. Note: This article’s title is drawn from a poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, which according to Wikipedia was published in 1798.