Water contamination takes place when chemicals are introduced into a water supply that renders it unusable and potentially toxic. Historically, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been responsible for the regulation of public water supplies in America and has laid down strict guidelines that need to be adhered to. In the past, however, America has been riddled with two major water crises.
One of the most devastating water crises in recent years was in Flint, Michigan, which took place in 2014. As the crisis continues to unfold, it brings back memories of the contamination that took place in Camp Lejeune and its devastating effects that are still felt to this day. Let’s take an in-depth look at both cases.
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Camp Lejeune Water Crisis
Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune is a military training facility in Jacksonville, North Carolina. Between 1953 and 1987, inhabitants of the base camp were exposed to toxic chemicals. The level of these chemicals was found to be exponentially higher than what is considered safe.
The exposure caused a host of potentially lethal diseases and illnesses in the victims, including a wide array of cancers, infertility, and neuro behavioural illnesses like Parkinson’s.
The primary contaminants responsible for the crisis at Camp Lejeune were volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are substances that possess low water solubility. Contaminants included degreasers, cleaning solvents, and several other chemicals like benzene and vinyl chloride that were deemed unfit for consumption (especially in the amounts detected at Camp Lejeune).
From a total of eight water treatment plants located at the Marine Corps base, two were found to be contaminated with the aforementioned VOCs: the Tarawa Terrace and Had not Point treatment plants.
It is said that over a million people were affected by the water contamination crisis that spanned decades. Despite the calamity taking place decades ago, the Camp Lejeune Justice Act was passed as recently as August 2022 by the current American president, Joe Biden.
The act allows those affected by the crisis, including their family members, to file for compensation to make up for the effects the crisis had on their health and well-being. TorHoerman Law notes that according to the act, anyone who was exposed to the contaminated water in Camp Lejeune for 30 days or more qualifies to file for compensation.
Where the Camp Lejeune water contamination settlement amounts are concerned, $667 billion was set aside to meet the requirements of the Honoring Our PACT Act (2022). Out of this, a total of $6.7 billion has been allocated to legal expenses and subsequent payouts for the Camp Lejeune crisis.
Flint Water Crisis
According to the EPA, the drinking water of many American towns is contaminated with ‘forever chemicals’ – compounds that were used in industrial activities, now deemed to be harmful to our health. While this is the result of a wider water contamination problem in the U.S., the cause of the Flint, Michigan, water crisis of 2014 is easier to narrow down.
In an attempt to cut costs, the water supply to the city of Flint was switched from its source of the Detroit city water system – Lake Huron – to water from the Flint River. However, it was later revealed that the Flint River water was highly toxic due to lead from untreated pipes making their way into the water supply.
It was only in December of 2015, however, that the then Mayor of Flint declared an emergency. Residents were warned to boil the now dark-colored water multiple times before using it, if they did so at all.
Due to multiple complaints and an awareness campaign run by the residents of Flint, a settlement was reached in 2017. It saw the State of Michigan setting aside $97 million to track down and replace the corroded pipes responsible for the contamination.
Aside from the hazardous effects on the health of Flint’s residents, various mental illnesses like depression or anxiety were reported. 66% of households had at least one behavioral issue.
Concerned Pastors for Social Action, in collaboration with the National Research and Development Corporation), the ACLU of Michigan, and a Flint resident, filed a lawsuit against Michigan State and Flint City for exposing residents of Flint to toxic chemicals. The petitioners didn’t, however, claim any monetary compensation.
The EPA takes charge of regulating the water supply quality in the U.S. Due to a multitude of factors like monetary restraints or even negligence, the possibility of being exposed to contaminated water cannot completely be ruled out.
As a citizen, you can take some steps to try and make sure that you are receiving water that is safe for consumption, such as asking your local water supply for the yearly report on the quality of water they are meant to provide.
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