How citizens needed to take action because policy makers didn’t
We have been running a project in the Water Institute that asks citizens to monitor the water quality in the river Liffey. This project is called BACKDROP. The critical element of this project, is the commitment of the citizens to take monthly water samples from different places along the river Liffey, for measurement of nutrient levels. This citizen involvement is really important to help fill data gaps on the river water quality. We hope to have lots more people join our citizen science efforts, over the coming months and years.
Around the world there are citizen groups drawing attention to significant environmental issues affecting people’s health. In 2016, a group called Martin County Water Warriors was created after the Flint scandal made headlines in the United States. The Martin County community members began sharing photos and stories about leaks, contamination and outages. A long battle since 2014 finally led to the state of Michigan and other defendants reaching a $600 million settlement in the Flint water crisis lawsuit in August this year. This will lead to direct payments to Flint residents.
In Merrimack New Hampshire, the Merrimack Citizens for Clean Water (MCCW) advocacy group have been bringing attention to the issue of “forever chemicals” such as PFAS, in their drinking water. In March of 2016, six Merrimack public water wells were closed as they contained a combined PFOA/PFOS concentration of 70 parts per trillion (ppt). Residents had been drinking water that contained these toxic chemicals for nearly 20 years. Residents suspected Teflon and other PFAS chemicals used in a company’s stain-resistant fabrics, were to blame. The PFAS chemicals are linked to a variety of cancers, thyroid disorders, kidney disease, autoimmune disruptions, liver disease, high cholesterol and more. Residents continue to campaign for a ban on these chemicals against multinational companies and the US government.
For decades, chemicals that are used in a range of industries for manufacture of everyday items, are polluting water. We need to be able to monitor these chemicals to confirm their presence and to be able to link occurrence, with risk to human health. There are emerging methods involving “effect-based tools” that will help link water quality issues and health effects. Meanwhile, where chemicals like PFAS have been shown to be toxic, regulations need to be adopted so that the chemical production is prohibited.
We see that citizens play a really important role in the campaign to remove toxic chemicals from use. Rachel Carson started this in 1962 with her book, Silent Spring – a book that kicked off an environmental movement, which is just as important today.