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People of color more likely to live without piped water in richest US cities

People of color in some of America’s wealthiest cities are significantly more likely to live in houses without indoor plumbing essential for running water, new research reveals.

Clean, safe, affordable water is essential for human health and economic survival. Yet access to running water is not universal in the United States, ostensibly the richest country in the world.

Nationwide, almost half a million homes do not have piped water, with the majority – 73% – located in urban areas. In fact, almost half the houses without plumbing are located in the country’s top 50 cities.

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Photo credit: Christin Lola/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Backyard Talk

EPA Takes Baby Steps in Acknowledging Fracking Dangers

The US EPA released a draft Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources earlier this month. Although still only a draft, the document marks a noticeable shift in how EPA views fracking – from basically denying that fracking posed any risk to drinking water and human health, to acknowledging that, “there are above and below ground mechanisms by which hydraulic fracturing activities have the potential to impact drinking water resources”. I, for one, cannot believe that EPA had the guts to do this.

Don’t get me wrong; the draft assessment still makes a weak statement with regards to the real impacts of fracking on drinking water. However, the statement carries major credibility and importance due to the fact that the draft assessment is the most comprehensive review of literature on the potential impacts of fracking on drinking water to date, having examined nearly 1,000 different science and engineering journals, federal and state government reports, nongovernmental organization reports, industry publications, and federal and state datasets.

Although EPA states that there is no evidence that fracking activities have led to “widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States”, they clearly acknowledge that they have the ability to do so at the local level. This is a bit obvious, since we are not experiencing massive water shortages or national pandemics due to fracking (at least not yet), yet it is well documented that millions of people across the nation have experienced water contamination due to fracking activities in their local environments. Therefore, if we take EPA’s statement into perspective, they are effectively saying that fracking can and has affected local drinking water sources across the country.

This is heresy for industry, and the full wrath of their criticism is sure to fall on EPA in the coming weeks. During the document’s public comment period, the oil and gas industry will move mountains to ensure that EPA’s modest claims attributing fault to fracking for drinking water contamination are removed from the final document.

As an idealist, I have hope that EPA will withstand the storm and stand up for what the science has revealed. However, in all likelihood, the billions of dollars at the disposal of industry will ensure that EPA softens their already weak stance or retracts it altogether.

My hope is that environmental organizations and the public at large fight this and tell EPA not to be bullied by corporate interests. Public comments on the draft assessment are open until August 28, so we can all weight in on the fight. EPA is taking baby steps towards finally accepting that fracking has huge inherent dangers to public health and this is among the first of these steps. It falls to us to take EPA’s hand and help it learn to walk.

Backyard Talk

Green Screen: D.C. Environmental Film Festival

Attendees of the 23rd Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital have traveled the world this past week, from the banks of the Anacostia to the harsh icescape of Antarctica, following pressing environmental issues and reveling in impressive cinematography. And the best part is, the adventure continues until March 29th.

The theme of this year’s festival is “Climate Connections,” but the screenings have covered a broad swathe of both local and global issues from sustainable agriculture to the pollution legacy of the fashion industry. Many of the films have highlighted environmental health issues, but several water-centric films told particularly poignant stories.  On Sunday, the festival held a “Women and Water” event in celebration of World Water Day, which featured films by women filmmakers. The first segment of the session featured stories of pollution and restoration that took place right in CHEJ’s backyard – in the Anacostia and Potomac rivers that run through Washington, D.C.

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Image from Stone Soup Films

‘The Anacostia River: Making Connections’ discussed the rampant discharge of industrial pollutants and trash into the Anacostia, which has threatened the river’s vitality and posed health risks to those who build community on its banks and eat fish from its waters. The film also documented heroic efforts to clean up the Anacostia, restoring it for generations to come. Watch the film here.

In ‘Potomac: The River Runs Through Us,’ researchers and advocates discussed the dependence of the nation’s capital on the waters of the Potomac River, where emerging contaminants like endocrine disruptors may be rearing their toxic heads. In its second half, ‘Women and Water’ expanded its scope from local to global. ‘Riverblue,’ a sobering work-in-progress film, shone light on the fashion industry’s pollution of rivers in India and Bangladesh, where workers must cope with both unsafe working conditions and an environment ravaged by the refuse of tanneries and garment factories.

The festival has curated over 160 films, many of which are showing for free at venues across the D.C. area for the rest of the week. The remaining schedule includes several films that highlight pollution and environmental health issues. Tomorrow (Tuesday), ‘Are Vah!’ tells the story of  of a French power company aspiring to build the largest nuclear plant in the world in a vital fishing and mango production zone of India. On Wednesday, ‘E-Waste Tragedy’ covers the environmental and health implications of toxic electronic waste, while ‘Landfill Harmonic’ discusses poverty and waste pollution in Paraguay. On Thursday, Our Canyon Lands will address pollution resulting from mining development in Utah.

For a full schedule of events, visit the film festival website.