Chemicals In Your Backyard: From Flint to PFAS

Photo by André Robillard

We hear about it all the time. From the cancer clusters in New Hampshire to contaminated beaches and waterways all over the country, environmental contamination is always someone else’s problem.

In Michigan, that changed in a huge way. When the Flint water crisis finally hit the news, we were outraged. Water contamination and the political cover-up that followed felt, sounded, and looked like something we would have expected to see come from a third world country. Neglect, criminal negligent, led to an American city on its knees, unable to provide safe drinking water for its citizens.

We couldn’t believe it. We were angry. And even years later, with some of the worst offenders in the contamination and the cover-up somehow clear of any charges, we’re still looking for an answer as to how this could have happened. What we’ve found isn’t surprising; there’s a now proven pattern of environmental contamination being more likely to affect poor communities. It’s the worst kind of piling-on possible, and one that leaves already underprivileged communities, many with high unemployment and little access to preventative health services, facing astronomically expensive clean-ups and medical care they simply can’t afford. They shouldn’t face these problems, or suffer from the economic and often racial discrimination that leaves them vulnerable to cancer-causing chemicals.

The next wave of contamination is PFAS, and while still early, experts are detecting levels of the ‘forever chemical’ in soil across the country. While most aren’t in concentrations that are considered life-threatening, we don’t full understand how these chemicals affect humans yet, nor have we found every single contamination site. Still, it’s led to ‘Do Not Eat’ advisories, as well as warnings in a five-county area on Lake Huron, including those with foam waves laded with chemicals.

If these issues aren’t in your backyard, remember that there are families facing these threats every single day. It’s always someone else’s backyard until the cameras flick on in your neck of the woods.

Support environmentally-friendly companies. Elect politicians who value our natural resources. And donate to organizations that work to prevent environmental contamination and inform those at risk.

Chemicals In Your Backyard: From Flint to P was originally published in Less Cancer Journal on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.