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Flint water crisis highlights neglect of poor communities

Carlotta Daniels-Randolph | 1/25/2016, 11:28 a.m.
The recent water crisis in Flint Michigan and its tragic consequences highlights how difficult it is to address the major ...
The Flint water crisis is a story that continues to unfold.

The recent water crisis in Flint Michigan and its tragic consequences highlights how difficult it is to address the major challenges of our society such as poverty and crime especially when there is a lack of understanding and concern for how many of these serious social issues develop or are exacerbated.

In this case it appears to be a blatant disregard for the people of Flint due to their socio-economic status and racial make-up, when authorities allowed thousands of children in that economically depressed city to be exposed to lead-laden water from a contaminated source. The lack of initial testing and oversight which one would expect in any similar situation where citizens would be given access to a water supply, is tantamount to criminal negligence. Water testing is a simple process that obviously did not take place or the response to the test results were not handled at the level necessary to protect lives.

Health officials and educators are saying the damage resulting from the poisonous drinking water could severely impact the physical and mental health, behavior and cognitive ability of these children for life. This lack of concern for the well-being of the city’s residents will cost the state and local government’s taxpayers dearly for decades to come and lower their quality of life.

The problems of Flint and cities like it are exacerbated by their inability to attract and keep industry that provide family sustaining wages and a stable tax base when the existing and developing workforce is potentially impaired by such negligence.

The pain and devastation caused by this level of neglect is unfathomable because it was avoidable. Basic testing would have revealed that the water was contaminated and the state government could have declared an emergency. They should have warned residents not to drink the water and provided bottled water, while repairs were rushed through on the municipal water system. The number of lives negatively impacted could have been mitigated. The cost of providing bottled water for several months would pale in comparison to the cost to cover lawsuits, special education, emergency health, mental health services, juvenile detention, law enforcement and prisons for years to come.

The blatant disregard for the poor when it comes to enforcing laws and regulations, particularly around environmental issues, results in the negative economic and social karma which plagues large cities today.

Cities like Baltimore, Maryland are a cautionary tale of what happens when regulations and laws are not enforced and the people are not protected. Decades ago the state of Maryland had the highest incidence of children testing positive for lead poisoning with the city of Baltimore leading the way. The resulting lead injuries to the residents caused certain neighborhoods to be tagged as “killer zones” and “zombie land”. The slum lords in these areas avoided compliance with laws and regulations to abate lead paint and other lead hazards in the old dwellings and thousands of families pay the price for this today. The city’s crime rate and failing schools are the byproducts of this selfish, shortsighted, criminal negligence. The quality of life for all is impacted and the media highlights the crime, hopelessness and despair with cable television series such as The Wire and the recent real life tragedy of Freddy Gray.

Hopefully, meaningful action and change will result from this unthinkable tragedy and the response to it will be more than sensational headlines for political exploitation.

Our collective compassion and support is needed to help the children and families affected by this disaster to have the best possible health outcomes and life chances.

Carlotta Daniels-Randolph, M.Ed is a columnist for South Jersey Journal.