Is the Jackson water issue the result of environmental racism?

Is the Jackson water issue the result of environmental racism? 

Is the Jackson water issue the result of environmental racism?
Marshall claims he has no option but to drink whatever is available from the tap.

Marshall resides in west Jackson, Mississippi, a largely black and impoverished neighborhood. He has no alternative except to drink tap water, which Jackson residents are advised to avoid. When he turns on the faucet, the water becomes brown.

He claims it has been like way for nearly eight months and that he has no option but to drink it.

"Yes, sir. I've been consuming it." When we inquire whether he is concerned, he smiles. "I'll be 70 this month," he says.

Marshall doesn't have a car, so he can't travel to the National Guard's water distribution facilities. He also lacks power and gas due to a recent fire in the house next door, preventing him from boiling the water to make it safer.

"It is rarely pure. It's sometimes brighter, sometimes darker. When I initially turn on the bath tub, it usually comes out rusty, then lighter. But the rust always comes first."

Jackson councillor Aaron Banks has spent most of his life in the Mississippi state capital and now serves a district that is more than 90% Black.

He believes the recent breakdown of Jackson's water supply was caused by a deadly mix of old infrastructure and climate change.

Is the Jackson water issue the result of environmental racism?
Residents of Jackson have been receiving water bottles from volunteers.

Mr Banks claims that when severe temperatures forced Jackson's water treatment facility to close in 2020, his region remained without water for over six weeks - significantly longer than the neighboring communities. Since then, the town's infrastructure has struggled to keep up.

"In the previous two years, we haven't gone a month without a 'boil water' notification or low to no water pressure," he adds. "Unfortunately, that is something we as Americans have become accustomed to - nobody should be adjusting to that sort of quality of life."

Mr. Banks claims that those compelled to adjust have overwhelmingly been persons of color. For years, the councilman claims he has watched state cash flood into the infrastructure of towns and places surrounding Jackson, but it has mostly bypassed the institutions that require it the most, including the city's water treatment facility.

Is the Jackson water issue the result of environmental racism?
"The state places people's health second." Sarina Larson claims

President Joe Biden's landmark infrastructure bill provides funds for disadvantaged and underserved communities like Jackson, which has a 2020 population of 163,000. But the funds are allocated by state legislators, who, Banks said, often pander to politics and prioritise projects for their constituents instead of focusing on fixing systemic problems in Jackson.

"We've an ageing water treatment plant that no one has thought about for years," says Professor Edmund Merem, a professor of urban planning and environmental studies at Jackson State University.

"I think the problem is that the response is rather ad hoc."

But Professor Merem also believes another factor has diverted focus and funding from Jackson's crumbling infrastructure - race.

Experts and advocates say what's happening in Jackson - and in cities like Flint, Michigan, where the water supply has been contaminated with lead - is a direct legacy of generations of discrimination and segregation.

"This is a deep-seated, decades-long, nascent situation," says Arielle King, an attorney and environmental justice advocate.

"I think the history of segregation and redlining in this country has contributed deeply to the environmental injustices we see now."

Redlining began in the 1940s as a state-sanctioned practise of denying mortgages and loans to people of colour because they were considered "too risky."

The programme lasted more than 40 years and had the effect, King said, of concentrating low-income, predominantly black communities in areas with polluting industries such as landfills, oil refineries and sewage treatment plants.

And those areas still exist today, she notes.

She points to parts of the country like what she calls Cancer Alley as an example. The area along the Mississippi River that was once home to Louisiana's vast plantations is now an industrial highway with more than 150 oil refineries and factories.

For decades, the predominantly black residents have suffered from one of the highest cancer rates in the country due to pollution.

Ms. King says the legacy of this kind of environmental racism, combined with decades of underinvestment in low-income areas, is also being felt in Jackson.

"You can say there are various factors that lead to flooding, but without redlining, people wouldn't be in flood-prone areas in the first place," Ms. King says.

"So it's about racial and environmental racism, unfortunately, every time.

Sarina Larson is a law student who lives a few blocks from Marshall. She moved here from Sacramento and wants to be a public defence attorney. She, too, blames redlining for the problems in the area.

In her kitchen, there are bowls of various sizes all over the floor. She collects rainwater in them and then uses a water philtre.

"The pipes in Jackson have lead in them, so I'd never drink a glass of water," she says, "I don't brush my teeth with tap water."

But she admits that most people can't afford the $300 (260 pounds) philtre she bought.

"A water crisis like this only becomes a problem when it affects people from a higher class," she says. That's continued, and Jackson is an example of that. People's health is secondary to the state."

Is the Jackson water issue the result of environmental racism?
According to Imani Olugbala-Aziz, "people of color are neglected."

We met Imani Olugbala-Aziz at a local community centre, where she and other members of the Cooperation Jackson volunteer group were distributing bottled water. It took less than an hour to use them up. She tells us that she barely has any water even at home.

"It's a crisis of views and values, and there's a lot of environmental racism. We send our money to the government to do what needs to be done. And they do not.

"We are underserved. People of colour are underserved. We live in the worst neighbourhoods in the city just so we can survive.

"We do not demand mansions, we just want to live and have the normal things, running water, clean water," says Ms. Olugbala-Aziz.

She says there are many homeless people in the area and local stores are closed, making it difficult for people to buy water.

"For the past month or so, we have had a warning about boiled water. It's not drinkable, so what are we supposed to do? How should we feed our children, how should we cook and eat?"

Ms. Olugbala-Aziz says people are paying high water bills, while this is not the case in predominantly white areas.

"This is not something that just happened. This is an insidious process that has now become unsustainable. We are struggling here."

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