Unions Take Water Crisis Message on the Road


Concerns about drinking water came to the attention of most Americans when the Flint water crisis became national news almost a year ago. Teamsters from all over the country became involved, bring fresh water to thousands of residents.

But as noted before, the problem isn’t just in Flint. And that’s the message of a group of mothers, led by a union teacher from the poisoned Michigan city, are taking on the road.

Darlene McClendon, a leader of the United Teachers of Flint, the AFT local there, brought that warning to a forum in Hoosick Falls, N.Y.  It was also first stop in the “Mothers of Flint” tour. And it won’t be the last.

 That’s because instances of water contamination, thanks to corporate greed, political inattention or worse, are sprouting nationwide, from the libraries of Washington, D.C., to the schools of Portland, Ore.

“Word spread like wildfire throughout the city” of Flint, McClendon told the forum at Hoosick Falls, about the lead-contaminated water spurting from faucets and taps. And her students, elementary schoolers, would ask her: “Am I going to die?”

Lead in water causes irreversible brain damage, behavior and learning problems, and that’s what happened in the majority-minority city of Flint after a state-GOP-named “czar” took over an allegedly financially failing government and vowed to save money.

One way he did so was to switch the city’s water source to the polluted Flint River without installing needed filters and devices to keep lead in Flint’s aging water pipes from leaching into the water people drank, used and bathed in.

But the water problem in Hoosick Falls, an overwhelmingly white village of a few thousand people – one third of them parents with children under the age of 18 – isn’t lead. It’s another chemical: PFOA.

 PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) found in the drinking water in Hoosick Falls, suppresses the human immune system. Federal studies identify it as a possible cancer-causing substance. It also upsets the human hormone system and can produce thyroid problems and lymphoma.

As a result of the PFOA in the water – caused by two big nearby manufacturing plants, run by Honeywell and Saint Gobain — the Hoosick Falls residents, like those in Flint, now are scared of their tap water and have been told not to use it. They too have to find and transport jugs of fresh water for their children’s baths, for cleaning fruit and vegetables and to cook.

Government at all levels needs to address this crisis. Aging water system as well as pollution are jeopardizing workers and families. There needs to be an investment in shoring up water systems to reduce that risk. Everyday Americans deserve better.