Right as some progress is being made in Flint, another crisis around tainted water has arisen in the northeast. The town of Bennington, VT is at the cusp of a catastrophe similar in nature to what we saw in Michigan, as a chemical plant has confirmed to be leaking pollutants downstream the Walloomsac River to Bennington’s local water supplies with testing on private water sources currently taking place.
While at first glance this crisis may come off as very similar in nature to what has occurred in Flint, the circumstances’ and the state and city’s involvement and knowledge of the crisis is completely different than what occurred in Flint
We can start off by dispelling one of the major myths around this Vermont water crisis: Bennington did poorly in the managing of toxic chemicals and their negligence directly degraded the quality of living for its citizens.
False. The fact of the matter is that Bennington has no manufacturing plants that contribute to the local economy, and that the state and local government officials had no idea of the water contamination until earlier this year.
In Flint, we saw a classic case of Government corruption and grudges taking precedence over public health concerns, but this could not more opposite in the issue of water quality in Vermont.
So how did all this happen?
What made this crisis so surprising and tragic for the people of Bennington was that this contamination came from out-of-state from a large chemical manufacturing plant. It started across the New York state border with a ChemFab manufacturing facility, and trickled on from there. Like many other similar facilities, the plant experienced public outlash surrounding the aesthetics of the plants. And like many other manufacturing plants, the ChemFab plant’s ability to spur the local economy through job creation kept any complaints about the plant in check.
But times have changed, and in many cases we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg regarding environmental effects from manufacturing processes. Just as we discover and pinpoint the health hazards of a once-common household material (lead paint) it seems that another contaminant arises. And while there is no obvious fix for problems we cannot see, we certainly can take steps in the right direction by laying down stricter regulations around water quality and appropriate drinking levels.
Unfortunately for Vermont, the exact opposite happened in New York. Blunders by the
New York local government and failure to set strict mandates has caused for mixed signals about water quality and have ultimately lead to quarrels between the EPA and the NY government while Vermont is left to suffer. And while arguing about who’s at fault here may continue long into the foreseeable future, the fact that Hoosick Falls’ water was declared safe for drinking and the next year was deemed a Superfund site shows the lack of enforcement and communication between the EPA and state governments.
This crisis has a common denominator with what we saw in Flint: aging infrastructure and a previous lack of responsibility in human outputs on our environment is showing it’s long-term effects, and our society is having trouble grasping the extent and severity of these consequences. Government agencies at all levels, from local health departments to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, have yet to grapple with the full extent of the problem. What may be the most disconcerting aspect of this issue is the amount of political quarrel that takes place while innocent parties must feel the crossfire. It has happened in Flint, and it has happened in Bennington and now it is time for the EPA to take the matter into their own hands and enforce stricter drinking water regulations.