What began as a tainted-water story out of Flint, Michigan, has blown up into a much broader discussion of environmental justice in the United States: Did Gov. Rick Snyder and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency play down the risks of a money-driven switch from lake to more corrosive river water because Flint has a disproportionate number of poor and African-American residents? Did they minimize residents’ complaints about high levels of brain-damaging lead in their water, released by aging pipes, for the same reason?
Snyder has apologized profusely, and the EPA’s regional administrator in Chicago has resigned. It’s fair to ask, however, whether something deeper is at work here: Is environmental racism so entrenched in this country that public health crises like Flint are inevitable?
That’s a question the Center for Public Integrity posed last year in “Environmental Justice, Denied,” an investigative series done in conjunction with NBC News. What we found was not encouraging.