According to the Civil Rights and Social Justice Section of the American Bar Association, many small communities across rural America are experiencing water problems. Two of the causes appear to be poor regulation of agricultural waste and other pollutants, and aging infrastructure.
As reported recently by The Frederick News-Post, Emmitsburg residents have been experiencing brown water issues, and many voiced their concerns at a town meeting on Jan. 6.
Although we live just outside the town limits, we are still very much a part of the community. We attended that meeting. After hearing the description of the “brown, sometimes green” water with black bits in it that “smeared like tar” and seeing photos of the water itself, I doubt that anyone could persuade me to drink that water, no matter what safe conclusions water tests provided.
Town officials paid attention and did not dispute the seriousness of the matter, which first came to light in October. An investigation is ongoing. Small communities such as Emmitsburg seldom have the funds needed to fix expensive problems in total, so pinpointing the problem area is necessary.
Though Emmitsburg’s water problems are a concern, there is no evidence to suggest the severity such as that experienced in Flint, Michigan, several years ago. Yet Emmitsburg residents are entitled to their concerns because of Flint. One resident told me he remembered the Flint water crisis and had brought up the incident. Who can blame him? No one is willing to take chances when it comes to the safety of their family.
President Donald Trump once described climate change as a hoax and has filled his administration with like-minded people. According to the World Health Organization, climate change is expected to lead to increased bacterial, viral and pathogenic contamination of water and food. Yet the administration is making changes that may exacerbate water, air and food safety issues across the country.
The president most likely “developed” his beliefs because the fossil-fuel industry and other big businesses support him and environmental regulations cost those businesses money.
The administration has slowly but steadily been rolling back environmental regulations that affect the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. If we ignore that, deciding perhaps that there is more to like about the president than not like, we do so at our own peril.
In June 2019 (updated in December), the New York Times provided some insight with an article titled “95 Environmental Rules Being Rolled Back Under Trump.” It details the actions of the administration on this critical issue.
A study released in October by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that deadly air particle pollution declined by almost 25 percent between 2009 and 2016. Granted, that is due in part because of the recession that began in 2007 and lasted for 18 months, but the environmental policies of the Obama administration also played a part. Between 2016 and 2018, however, air particle pollution increased by 5.5 percent. We can presume that rolling back environmental regulations will likely add to our pollution problems.
Given that President Trump has been rolling back environmental protections intended to safeguard our health, I suspect we will see towns across America challenging their leaders from time to time regarding polluted water or air.
With regard to the Emmitsburg brown water problem, I believe town officials are listening and are concerned. As the investigation continues, the Board of Commissioners is assuring town residents that it will improve communication and provide updates.
Meanwhile, the town requests that residents keep their water reports coming in because the investigation can only benefit from them. Any single story may be what leads the investigation to a significant finding.
Patience in necessary, though. In “Silent Spring,” written by marine biologist, conservationist and activist Rachel Carson and published in 1962, the author states: “The public must decide whether it wishes to continue on the present road, and it can do so only when in full possession of the facts.”
Carson then offers the words of biologist and philosopher Jean Rostand:“The obligation to endure gives us the right to know.”
No matter how long it takes and regardless of how frustrating it is, we need to work together to solve the Emmitsburg water problem. We can show Washington how working together is done in small-town America.
Whether it is a town’s problem or a nationwide problem, we are, as always, essentially all in it together.
Patricia Weller writes from Emmitsburg and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.