The city of Newark, New Jersey will test 17,000 children for lead poisoning after the drinking water in nearly half the schools in the city was found to have high levels of the toxin, ABC 7 reports.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has been caught up chasing Donald Trump around on the campaign trail, said on Tuesday that his administration would be tackling the problem immediately.
“I want to make sure everyone understands this is a situation we’re concerned about, but it is not a crisis,” Christie told reporters. “But we don’t want to let it become a crisis. So we’re on top of it.”
The situation is reminiscent of another water crisis that has been making headlines for months now.
Flint, Michigan has become the catalyst for a national conversation on environmental injustice. The bureaucratic decision to save a few dollars by switching Flint’s previous water supply to the corrosive water of the Flint River is unique (and uniquely troubling) in some ways, but it’s part of a larger problem in America.
We need to stop thinking about Flint as an isolated tragedy. Instead, let’s discuss whether or not we live in a Flint nation, one where negligence and systemic inequality conspire to adversely affect our most vulnerable communities.
There’s a reason Latinos rank climate change right alongside immigration as an issue they care most about. There’s a reason Native Americans are often at the front line in the fight for environmental justice. It’s because these communities, communities more likely to populate impoverished areas, are the ones footing the bill for the reckless practices of politicians who have prioritized money over people.
I am reminded of the Latino community in Kern County, California, the most fracked county in the state, which was forced to relocate because residents were suffering from headaches, nosebleeds, rare cancers and respiratory diseases associated with oil and drilling extraction.
I am reminded of a study that said in 2014, nonwhites were exposed to concentrations of toxic nitrogen dioxide that were 38% higher than the ones affecting whites.
I am reminded of Sierra Blanca, a poor Latino community that has been used as a waste dump since 1992.
I am reminded of Native American reservations across the United States where contaminated water is the norm. I think of the Navajo Nation, and what happened to them last August when three million gallons of toxic sludge spilled into the Colorado River System, which flows through the heart of Navajo Nation. When assistance finally arrived to the Navajo, it was in the form of oily water tanks.
We cannot divorce race and systemic inequality from the above examples. Nor we can we divorce them from what happened in Flint. As Hillary Clinton said at the Democratic debate on January 17th:
“We’ve had a city in the United States of America where the population, which is poor in many ways and the majority African American, has been bathing and drinking in lead-contaminated water. And the governor of that state acted as thought he didn’t really care. He had his requests for help that he basically stonewalled. I’ll tell you what: If the kids in a rich suburb of Detroit had been drinking contaminated water and being bathed in it, there would’ve been action.”
These are words to take to heart.
Newark. Sierra Blanca. Navajo Nation. Kern County.
It’s time we faced the truth: Flint is everywhere.