With President Obama scheduled to tour Flint, Michigan, today, concerns about water safety have been elevated to the national stage once again, leading many to speculate whether another water crisis is looming for more American cities.
Elevated levels of lead found in Newark Public Schools in March created panic among residents. In the city of Camden, students and public school staff have been drinking bottled water since 2002 due to deterioration of piping found in the buildings, many of which were constructed nearly a century ago.
- The lead crisis in Michigan has prompted a review in New Jersey as fears of another Flint spread across the US.
Nearly 50 percent of the residents in Newark and Camden are black, according to recent census data, similar to the demographics of Flint. A 2012 report published by a group of international water policy experts determined that African-American residents were nearly twice as likely to live in buildings with inadequate plumbing as whites.
The tests announced by Christie will impact approximately 3,000 public schools. The governor hopes to reduce the level of lead in a child's blood from 10 micrograms per deciliter to five, meeting standards set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2012. The CDC says a level of 5 micrograms per deciliter is used to identify children with high levels of lead in their blood.
Funding for the tests, which will cost an estimated $10 million, will not come easily for the cash-strapped state, whose debt reached $170 million in 2015, according to Truth in Accounting, a watchdog group.
Improving New Jersey’s water supply has been a concern for Christie long before Flint Mayor Karen Weaver declared a state of emergency in December of last year.
Christie signed the Water Infrastructure Protection Act in February of 2015, a bill designed to fast-track the privatization of the state’s public water systems. Proponents argue that the legislation would spur investment in the state’s crumbling infrastructure, but environmentalists strongly oppose it, arguing that it turns a necessity into a profit-making resource for corporations without necessarily solving the problem at hand.
“What consumer protection groups find is that turning over water systems to private industry often increases the cost for residents without guaranteeing the safety that lawmakers like Christie say they want,” said Andrea Muehlebach, an associate professor at the University of Toronto who specializes in water systems.
New Jersey residents are not alone in their struggles with infrastructure. An investigative report published this March in USA Today found potentially hazardous lead levels in close to 2,000 water systems across the county.
Obama’s visit to Flint, which was prompted by a letter he received from Mari Copeny, an 8-year-old Flint resident requesting to meet with him, gives the president the opportunity to draw attention to the severity of the crisis.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder will greet Obama at the airport in Flint, a spokesman for Snyder confirmed to ABC News.
The spokesman also said the governor will participate in the president’s briefing with federal officials on the Flint water crisis. In April, two state regulators and one city employee were charged with misconduct, tampering and other offenses in relation to Flint's water crisis.
It was unclear if Obama would drink filtered water during his stay.