May 23, 2016
It is shocking and horrifying that so many people in Flint, Michigan have been poisoned by high levels of lead in the drinking water. And 8,000 are children under the age of 6, when their growing and developing brains and bodies are the most vulnerable to the damage and destruction suffered from lead poisoning.
But Flint is not alone.
There are at least 2,000 water systems spanning all 50 states with high amounts of lead in the water, according to USA Today. And 350 of those water systems are for schools and day care centers. A water sample at a Maine elementary school was 42 times higher than the legal limit set by the EPA – which itself is too high, since any amount of lead can cause permanent damage. A Pennsylvania preschool was 14 times higher. An elementary school in Ithaca, New York was 5,000 times higher, exposing children and adults to drinking water so laced with lead, it qualifies as hazardous waste.
No, the only difference between Flint and a lot of other cities and towns is that the people in Flint protested and demonstrated. Otherwise, politicians, government officials and business leaders would have done nothing to prevent people from continuing to be poisoned. After all, General Motors knew Flint water was dangerous, because it stopped using it in its factories. But GM executives kept that information secret from the population.
Politicians, government officials throughout the country know full well that tens of thousands of miles of water pipes are still made out of lead. After all, up until 1985, it was perfectly legal to install water pipes made out of lead!
Yet, politicians and government officials don’t lift a finger to replace these pipes because they say there is no money. They say the water agencies are going broke.
That is a lie. The proof is in our water bills. Over the last two decades, water rates have not only been increasing much faster than the rate of inflation, but faster than any other utility rate – faster than what is charged for natural gas, electricity or the phone.
Today, the people in Flint pay on average close to $900 per year for water. They pay a higher rate for water than anywhere else in the country. And what they get is water that is both expensive and so dangerous, they can’t even use it to wash their hands.
Flint might be a more extreme example. But the fact is that government officials use water utilities as a cash cow. They syphon the money off and hand it over to big companies like GM, or big real estate developers. Or else they hand it over to big banks and financiers in the form of high, tax-free interest payments on water bonds.
How much is impossible to know because it is kept secret. But in December 2012, the New York Times published a study that found that state and local governments give away more than 80 billion dollars per year in tax breaks and subsidies to companies every year. That comes to almost half as much as state and local governments spend on all infrastructure projects every year, including not just water systems, but construction of schools, roads, sewers, airports, dams, levees – everything. In other words, government officials starve spending on vital infrastructure in order to further fatten the profits of the capitalist class.
Providing cheap, safe and clean drinking water should be simple and straight forward. But in an economy dominated by the capitalist class, it is just another money making operation, another way to rip off the working population, destroying countless lives in the process.
In these times of worsening crisis in the capitalists’ own economic system, the capitalists protect their profits by imposing dangerous and destructive conditions on the population, pushing our society backwards. It is even more outrageous because there is more wealth than ever before, wealth that could be used to improve the living conditions of everyone.