News Feature | August 28, 2017

Tap Water Problems Found To Be More Prevalent In Poor, Minority Communities

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

kids water reg new

Tap water problems and shoddy water infrastructure are rampant in poor African-American communities, according to a report published by the Center for Public Integrity.

Campti, LA, is one example.

“Like many poor African-American communities, Campti’s poverty is a significant impediment to making crucial improvements to the town’s infrastructure — including its old water system,” the report said.

More than half of Campti's population lives in poverty, and the median income is under $16,000 the report said.

Lifelong resident Leroy Hayes said the water often smells like bleach or takes on a brown hue.

“The water system in Campti is more than 50 years old, according to an audit from the Louisiana legislative auditor. Near the end of 2016, the water tank sprang several holes, some of which were temporarily plugged with sticks. A new tank was built in March, but residents still don’t trust that the water is safe,” the report said.

Former Campti Mayor Judy Daniels explained that local water problems "get worse after a storm or power outage because the water pump does not have a backup generator," the report paraphrased.

Uniontown, AL, is another example.

“Black residents blame a swell of gastrointestinal complications on the waste from a nearby catfish farm they say pollutes their drinking water. In parts of North Carolina, impoverished African-Americans sometimes rely on contaminated wells for drinking water — though public water systems run just a few feet from their homes,” the report said.

Jacqueline Patterson, the director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program, said communities of color are “disproportionately affected by polluting industries because they are more likely to be located near low-income neighborhoods.”

The recent report by News21 noted that water violations occur at systems in every part of the country. But there are clean patterns governing which areas are hardest hit, the report said.

“Drinking water quality is often dependent on the wealth and racial makeup of communities, according to News21’s analysis. Small, poor communities and neglected urban areas are sometimes left to fend for themselves with little help from state and federal governments,” the report said.

Manuel Teodoro, a researcher at Texas A&M University, cited a “bias” when it comes to water safety.

"These are not isolated incidences, the Flints of the world or the Corpus Christis or the East Chicagos," Teodoro said. "These incidents are getting media attention in a way that they didn’t a few years ago, but the patterns that we see in the data suggest that problems with drinking water quality are not just randomly distributed in the population — that there is a systemic bias out there."

The crisis in Flint, MI, helped highlight the problem of lead contamination. Mother Jones reported that the problem is a particular threat to minority communities.

“Economically and politically vulnerable black and Hispanic children, many of whom inhabit dilapidated older housing, still suffer disproportionately from the devastating effects of the toxin. This is the meaning of institutional racism in action today,” the report said.

Image credit: "playing with water," nicholas wang © 2012, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/