Race a determining factor in access to clean water

October 8, 2019

A recent report of EPA data has confirmed the suspicion that water contamination disproportionately affects majority-black communities such as Flint, Michigan, and Newark, New Jersey.

The report was co-authored by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Coming Clean and the Environmental Justice Health Alliance and discusses how access to clean water “is related to a history of community disinvestment, residential segregation and discrimination.”

The research found that majority-black communities have to wait longer for drinking water laws, such as the Safe Drinking Water Act, to be enforced. Furthermore, poor-quality drinking water systems that didn’t adhere to the law were 40% more likely to be located in cities with more people of color.

"Every child deserves safe drinking water but, today, race still matters,” said Michele Roberts, National Co-Coordinator of the Environmental Justice Health Alliance in a press release. “The sad reality that communities of color are still more likely to face unsafe drinking water makes it clear that we have a lot farther to go. For decades communities across the country have been leading a movement for environmental and economic justice; yet, even 55 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the law still does not ensure that the color of your skin won't mean you're more likely to drink polluted water.”

Consuming polluted water leads to higher risks of cancer, infertility, birth defects, development effects and infections, among other health concerns.

The study also found that big cities weren’t the only significant sites of water contamination. Smaller cities with fewer than 3,300 people made up 80% of drinking water violations analyzed.

The researchers are now advocating for changes to the Safe Drinking Water Act that will ensure justice for minority communities.

“At its core, environmental justice hits the black and brown community in ways that are not seen or felt immediately,” said Yvette Jordan, a member of NEW Caucus, a group of school teachers that has sued Newark regarding drinking water. “As a public-school teacher, I see the effects of this every day. More importantly, I witness the apathy and naivete from my students because of a lack of education regarding environmental justice. This report highlights the steps that are necessary to begin to turn the collective tide towards health equity.”

Learn more about the study and its findings here.

Race a determining factor in access to clean water