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On World Water Day, we take a look at U.S. cities that are dealing with the environmental injustice of unclean water. 

Mar, 22, 2017

While the national spotlight on the water crisis in Flint, Mich has exposed failure within the U.S. public water system, it’s not the only city in America facing environmental injustice. 

Water systems in cities like Baltimore, Philadelphia and Milwaukee are amongst more than 5,000 that are violating lead regulations.

The disastrous water crisis in Flint was brought to light in 2014, when the city took a cost-cutting measure after the water source was switched from Detroit to the Flint River.

This February, The Michigan Civil Rights Commission issued a report that stated, "deeply embedded institutional, systemic and historical racism" indirectly contributed to the ill-fated decision to tap the Flint River for drinking water.

On March 21, the EPA announced that the city of Flint was awarded $100 million for drinking water infrastructure upgrades. Although some sites have attempted to credit President Donald Trump for the funds, it was former President Barack Obama who requested the funds long ago.

Approximately 18 million Americans live in communities where the water systems are in violation of the law. Philadelphia, for example, is accused of having the worst water testing in the nation.

As March 22 is World Water Day, we’ve taken a look at cities across the country whose water is under attack.

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Philadelphia, Pennsylvania:

As The Guardian reported in January of 2016, Philadelphia is accused of having the worst water testing in the U.S. This comes as the city asks testers to pre-flush their pipes, remove aerators and slowly pour water into a sample bottle.

The EPA has warned against all these testing methods, which could “mask the added contribution of lead at the tap." Additionally, documents show some authorities have also removed high-risk homes from testing or sought to obscure their dangerous lead levels.

An expert told reporters that the city’s procedures are putting residents health in jeopardy and are “worse than Flint.”

Chicago, Illinois:

As The Chicago Tribune reports, researchers at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found alarming levels of the brain-damaging metal flowing out of household faucets. The report from February of 2016, revealed that nearly 80 percent of the properties in Chicago are hooked up to service lines made of lead.

A previous 2015 Tribune investigation, revealed that the issue was primarily in low-income and predominantly Black neighborhoods on the West and South Sides.

"There is a price to be paid for scientific misconduct, and unfortunately it is borne by the poorest amongst us, not by its perpetrators," Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech researcher who has played a major role in the Flint investigation.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin:

In September of 2016, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett acknowledged that the city has a lead-in-water problem. The announcement came as the city, which includes more than 70,000 lead service lines, began to actively take several steps toward lowering residents’ exposure to lead in drinking water.

State officials say that an estimated 176,000 lead pipes providing drinking water to homes and businesses in the state were at risk. However, the Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp said the replacement “costs a lot of money to do that.”

Milwaukee NAACP president Fred Royal, who’s a member of the Freshwater for Life Action Coalition, challenged Stepp and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett to prioritize replacement of the state’s lead service lines.

“We’re talking about whether it’s economically feasible to save our children in Milwaukee,” he said.

Royal's criticism included how the state located funding to finance a $500 million new basketball arena for the Milwaukee Bucks but seem baffled by how to remove lead pipes that may contribute to the high rate of lead poisoning among the city’s children.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania:

As The Pittsburgh Post Gazette reported in January, the drinking water tested high in lead for some residents utilizing the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA), a finding that reinforces the authority’s mandate to step up replacement of lead service lines.

According to the PWSA, tap water tests done at 149 city residences with known lead service lines in December calculated lead at 18 parts per billion — above the state and federal 15 parts per billion action level. Their reports state that an estimated 25 percent of its 80,000 people are get their water through lead service lines, but it’s not clear on where many of those lines are located, The Pittsburgh Post Gazette writes.

The professor who had helped expose Flint, Michigan’s lead crisis told reporters “the levels in Pittsburgh are comparable to those reported in Flint.”

Baltimore, Maryland:

According to The Baltimore Sun’s report last April, nearly 4 percent of samples in a Baltimore water quality analysis contained elevated lead levels.

Two out of 52 samples contained lead at levels higher than 15 parts per billion, considered the "action level." The samples were collected in 2015, and the elevated lead levels were found in homes in East Baltimore and North Baltimore, officials said.

The Director of the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Maryland, Jane Barrett, said that while the results fall below the EPA's level of concern, they emphasize the importance of monitoring.

"Given the sensitivity to the issue and the age of the Baltimore City infrastructure, it is something you want to keep an eye on and keep watching," Barrett said.

Boston, Massachusetts:

Last November, The Boston Globe reported that water tests conducted at roughly 300 public school buildings in Massachusetts showed that more than half had at least one sample with lead levels above regulatory limits.

“Steps being taken to address the problems found in the 164 school buildings by flushing pipes, shutting off drinking fountains or taps, and making long-term plumbing repairs,” officials said.

Trenton, New Jersey:

This January, reports revealed that New Jersey education officials stated that 21 school districts have elevated levels of lead in drinking water. The Education Department documents do not indicate which school districts are affected.

According to NJ.com, eleven cities in New Jersey, and two counties have a higher proportion of young children with dangerous lead levels than Flint, Mich., does, according to New Jersey and Michigan statistics cited by a community advocacy group.

Elyse Pivnick, Director of Environmental Health For Isles, Inc. said, "in light of the Flint debacle, we wanted people to understand that water is not the only thing that's poisoning children."