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Dr. Robert Bullard on Flint Water Crisis and Justice


Canal Boat, London UK (photo by Peterson Toscano)

If somehow the U.S. Presidential Primaries have eclipsed most other news for you, there is a major water crisis in the city of Flint, Michigan.  Yale360 summarizes the situation for us.

In Flint, Michigan, a city of 100,000 whose population is 56 percent African American, a state cost-cutting measure to begin drawing drinking water supplies from the Flint River has led to a public health crisis. The corrosive waters of the river have leached lead out of Flint’s aging water pipes, causing thousands of children to ingest dangerously high levels of lead — a problem that was ignored for months.

They speak with Dr. Robert D. Bullard — dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University and the man widely considered to be the first to fully articulate the concept of environmental justice and ask questions about the crisis. Here are some highlights from Dr. Bullard’s answers.

The Flint water crisis is a man-made disaster and a textbook case of environmental injustice. Government flat-out failed this city. Residents are still waiting for justice since their drinking water is unsafe. This is more than a small inconvenience. Try living a normal day-to-day life off bottle water. State workers in Flint were given bottled water while residents complained to the government —and that was some eight months before residents were told the city water was unsafe. This is immoral, unjust, and unfair. The harm to children who drank lead-tainted water is forever. Thus, long-term solutions are needed — solutions that extend well beyond the next four-year election cycle.


Network by Tom Price at Yorkshire Sculpture Park (photo by Peterson Toscano)

In a response to a question about the Federal Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Civil Rights, Dr. Bullard offered this advice:

My advice was straightforward. I urged the agency to use its authority and power to ensure equal protection and root out racial discrimination wherever it is found. Generally, communities of color do not trust or have confidence in their state regulatory agency to enforce civil rights and dispense equal protection. And by default, the EPA is viewed by many environmentally impacted communities as the only game in town to get justice. EPA needs to deliver.

The EPA should not allow any family, and especially innocent children, to be overburdened with pollution and their neighborhoods to become toxic “sacrifice zones.” Much of what is happening in environmental “sacrifice zones” is environmental racism. EPA should not hide behind “scientific complexity” as an excuse for not acting forcibly to root out discrimination and punish the perpetrators. Clearly, the act of cleaning up toxic waste in white communities and dumping it in black communities is not “scientifically complex.” This actually happened in the December 2008 Tennessee Valley Authority coal ash disaster. Toxic coal ash from the massive spill was cleaned up in Roane County, Tennessee, which is 93 percent white, and shipped by rail 300 miles south to Uniontown, Alabama, which is 88 percent black.

Have a look at the rest of the piece: Five Questions for Robert Bullard On the Flint Water Crisis and Justice. And if you are on Twitter, I highly urge you to follow Dr. Robert Bullard.


Author: Peterson Toscano

Peterson Toscano is a quirky queer Quaker concerned about Climate Change. His website is

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