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Poisoning the Water Equals Cultural Death: Flint, Michigan, as Precursor to New Administration’s Environmental Policies

Watching the Flint water crisis unfold should have triggered a collective warning that more destruction would come.

The insidiousness of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, is that it was governmentally sanctioned, with no one willing to take responsibility once it was fait accompli. While criminal charges have been filed, there have been no convictions. It represents a clear violation of environmental policy, including the 68-year history of governmental water protection by the Federal Water Pollution Act (1948) and Clean Water Act (1972), and can only be described as an act of terrorism. Joel Beauvais, acting deputy assistant administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Office of Water told a congressional committee that what happened in Flint was “avoidable and should never have happened” after the city switched from Detroit’s treated water to untreated water from the Flint River in April 2014.

Watching the Flint water crisis unfold should have (and may have for some) triggered a collective warning in our brains that more destruction would come. This is not because industries haven’t violated policies and practices of environmental protection in the past. However, this time the government (you know “for the people, by the people”) once again decided to act brazenly in decimating its “weaker members” in a way not seen in recent history.

To pollute water is to destroy life — thus the words shouted and written on signs in the Dakota Access pipeline protests, “Water is life.” Human bodies are up to 60 percent water; the average human brain and heart are about 73 percent water and our lungs are 83 percent water. The planet on which we live is covered in 71 percent water. Therefore, we need water to sustain life as we know it. Federal health agencies and public and private think tanks have long documented the adverse effects on the human body of exposure to pollutants, particularly lead and other compounds.

Things that we do, such as increasing pollution and rapid deforestation, are also linked to cultural death. We often think of cultural death as loss of language and ways of being in isolated and remote cultures, but the Western way of thinking in either/or (dichotomies) will also cause cultural death of the peaceful and harmonious way of living in society. We only need look to recent issues with water lead poisoning in Flint, Michigan, and the proposed Dakota Access pipeline to see clearly the overlap between racism, economic disparity, environmental injustice and the destruction of peace. Water as a natural element brings peace, and destroying water is an act of terrorism against humanity. The short-term successes in acknowledging access to clean water as a human right are set to be halted in the Trump administration’s attacks on environmental protections. If we value humanity, we must answer the calls to action to engage politically through civil protest, running for office or any other means afforded to us.