Op-ed: Water we waiting for? Berkeley should respond to the crisis in Flint

Every single child in Flint, Michigan has been exposed to lead poisoning thanks to contaminated water. Lead poisoning is irreversible and has the largest health impact on children. Lead poisoning has been proven to cause a series of health consequences, including measurable drops in I.Q., aggression, hostility, motor skill delays, colic, convulsions, brain disease, and sometimes death. Not only that, but the number of cases in Flint of Legionnaires Disease has skyrocketed since the city switched its water supply from Lake Huron to that of the polluted Flint River. After this water supply transition, the city failed to put in place the proper corrosion controls to protect the piping from exposing the water to lead poison and other contaminants. All of this damage has been done in an effort to save a few dollars.

Flint’s population is predominately black (56%) and predominately impoverished. Would this water crisis would have occurred in a white suburb, and, if so, would the response be different?

This water crisis is no accident.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder had been well informed of the public health risks of the infested waters since 2014. Flint residents have been consuming toxic waste from their water supply for two years. Two years.

If that knowledge isn’t outrageous enough for your liking, please read and share Michael Moore’s 10 Things They Won’t Tell You about the Flint Water Tragedy. But I Will so together we can be armed with the information needed to hold Gov. Snyder accountable.

As a non-profit organization addressing and helping to alleviate health disparities experienced by black individuals in Berkeley, Healthy Black Families (HBF) is here to let our communities know that we are aware and alert to the public health disasters occurring in our country. This op-ed exists to educate, motivate and encourage our people to be proactive and preemptive when it comes to public health issues. We want to be proactive in finding policies that have the effect of increasing disparities in health outcomes. Here at HBF, we are disappointed that our Berkeley elected officials have yet to condemn the crisis in Flint. We are also disappointed in our national government administrators for implicitly allowing this water crisis to turn into just that, a crisis, despite several warnings.

Access to clean water is not a privilege. It is a human right. Yet marginalized areas, such as Flint, are having their basic human rights stripped away. This water crisis is no accident, because for people in power, such as Gov. Snyder and his administration, it is easy to abuse those who do not have the resources to protect themselves.

We cannot let this happen to us here in Berkeley. We at Healthy Black Families are here to help educate our communities with resources. If people reading this op-ed have any health concerns in their communities, they are strongly urged to take action in protecting themselves and their community by contacting the Berkeley Public Health Division and inquiring about what is being done to ensure the safety of our public health. We also strongly encourage Berkeleyans to visit MoveOn.org in an effort to take charge in fighting for change and social justice through the use of petitions.

Through having people unite to advocate for change, public health crises, such as the toxic water situation in Flint, can be addressed and resolved before they become disasters.

Berkeleyside welcomes submissions of op-ed articles. We ask that we are given first refusal to publish. Topics should be Berkeley-related, local authors are preferred, and we don’t publish anonymous pieces. Email submissions, as Word documents or embedded in the email, to editors@berkeleyside.com. The recommended length is 500-800 words. Please include your name and a one-line bio that includes full, relevant disclosures. Berkeleyside will publish op-ed pieces at its discretion. 

Jackie Boyd, MHC is a board member of Healthy Black Families, Inc.