Ford Hall brings light to environmental racism

March 4, 2016

Brandeis Climate Justice and the Brandeis Pluralism Alliance sponsored the event “From Ford Hall to Flint: A Conversation on Environmental Racism and Activism” on March 2 in the Mandel Reading Room. The event was a discussion that featured a panel of graduate and undergraduate students, professors and activists. Saren McAllister ’18 of Brandeis Climate Justice moderated the discussion, which revolved around environmental racism, the Flint Water Crisis and how the Brandeis community can get involved, according to the event’s Facebook page.

Flint is a city in Michigan, north of Detroit, and the entire population (about 100,000 people) does not have access to clean, fresh water. All of their water currently contains toxic amounts of lead, as well as other contaminates such as E. Coli.

According to an information sheet given out at the event, Flint’s water is contaminated because beginning in March 2013, the Flint City Council voted to stop buying water from Detroit, opting to use the Flint River as its water source instead. Soon after the switch, the water became discolored and foul-smelling; the Flint River’s chloride levels had stripped the water of its filtering chemicals and leached lead from the pipes that deliver water to most Flint residences.

This is a huge problem, as every Flint resident was exposed to lead for at least a year and a half, according to the information sheet. Lead exposure is bad for adults, but it can be severely detrimental to children under six and can lead to lifelong side effects, such as lowered IQ, behavioral problems and developmental delays. Flint had multiple opportunities to switch back to their water supply from Detroit at no additional cost, or they could have paid $100 a day to treat the water so there were no longer any chemicals in it, but the state and local governments chose not to.

According to the sheet, “The concerned students of Ford Hall 2015 stand together with our brothers and sisters in Flint, Michigan currently experiencing an outrageous violation of their human rights with no access to clean water.”

#FordHall4Flint is attributing the situation in Flint to environmental racism, which refers to the disproportionate exposure of blacks to polluted air, water and soil. According to statistics gathered by the magazine The Nation, “Race is the most significant predictor of a person living near contaminated air, water or soil.” People of color are two times more likely to live without potable water and modern sanitation and have seen 95 percent of their claims against polluters denied by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

During the event, Danielle Brown, a resident of Flint and Executive Director of the Christ Enrichment Center, a faith-based nonprofit, was Skyped in to discuss the situation. She talked about her daily life without access to tap water, saying that she has to have gallons of water in her home that she heats up in order to cook, and that she showers with the contaminated water but is reluctant to wash her face because the chlorine levels in it are either too high or too low.

The EPA still says the water is not okay to drink. “It’s hard to think every time you turn on the water fountain, ‘Are you going to use it today?’” Brown said.

Panelist Carl Williams, staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts, said, “Air and water are the two most essential things to human life. That people don’t have water at a city in the United States is incomprehensible.”

The #FordHall4Flint campaign began in February and since then they have collected over $2,000, as well as supplies for the Christ Enrichment Center and the Community Foundation for Greater Flint. Brown says that at this point they have been sent more than enough water; what they truly need now is for people to continue paying attention to the issue and educate themselves so they can continue to help in the long term.

“One of the things I believe we really need are people who are educated, who are going into fields that can help communities, to choose to live in those communities,” Brown said. “We don’t have a quality range of elected officials. This community and communities like ours need educated people who have a desire to be a leader, who know how to utilize their voice in powerful ways to impact change that happens when people are impoverished by great numbers.”

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