There was lead in the water but the government continually denied any health risks to the city’s residents. Only the persistence of a Virginia Tech professor brought the truth to light. I’m not talking about Flint, Michigan, by the way. Rather, I’m referring to our nation’s capital: Washington, DC.
In 2004, the CDC knowingly used flawed data to assure residents of the District of Columbia that they had not been exposed to any health risks due to lead spikes in the drinking water. It took six years for Virginia Tech professor, Marc Edwards, to get the CDC to finally admit that they’d told a few white lies in that reassuring song they’d sung to the District’s residents. Around the same time, a report from NRDC cited other problems with the water in DC, including serial violations related to coliform (children might say “poop”). Just as in Flint, the basic necessity of safe water was held in uncertainty and a governing agency misled the people. Ironically, it was the same Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech who ultimately revealed the uncomfortable truth about DC’s water, just as he recently did in Flint.
Water is the most basic of human needs, impossible to live without. Yet there are a number of studies that suggest drinking water in various US cities is either in bad shape or at the least, threatened by our aging infrastructure. Yet this is America, the great superpower of the world. This is the country that brings us a new iPhone every six minutes, new apps to deliver everything from food to sex (literally) and new technologies to even help mitigate climate change. How can this glaring inequality exist between our scientific and technological achievements and our near alignment with the third world?
In the first place, we must realize that our brand of capitalism doesn’t necessarily satisfy our needs so much as produce profits. Indeed, Apple just reported the largest annual corporate profit in history, while Flint has no drinking water. The two aren’t necessarily correlated and we must at some point acknowledge this. While access to cellphones and flat screens seems almost universal in America, many lack adequate housing or live in food deserts. There is something very wrong with this picture.
In the face of this massive inequality we must question our assumed greatness as a country and ask whether our national pride is completely merited. A basketball player with an amazing jump shot, without the coordination to dribble or pass, would never be accused of greatness. A country that can deliver mobile apps but not safe drinking water must also be held under scrutiny. Donald Trump has continued to campaign on a platform to “Make America Great Again” and just maybe he has a point.