Avibra was created with the specific mission of helping people live happier, more secure lives. We take our commitment to our community and the world seriously, and we’re always working to find new ways to make a real difference. Last month, Social Impact featured LGBTQIA+ discrimination. This month, the topic is access to clean water. We will also be donating to World Vision, an organization that helps deliver bottled water and home water filtration systems to American families who are in urgent need of clean water due to natural disaster or environmental and infrastructure degradation.

While access to clean water is an issue that’s often associated with more impoverished countries, the truth is that it affects people right here in the US as well. You might have heard about the Flint water crisis, where the city’s drinking water was contaminated when they changed their water source from treated Detroit Water and Sewerage Department water to the Flint River. The new water source meant that lead leaked from the old pipes into the drinking water, exposing up to 12,000 children to high levels of lead. 

Exposure to lead can cause brain damage, slow growth and development and cause learning, behavior, hearing and speech problems. These problems can affect children for the rest of their lives. While this crisis initially started in 2014, the city of Flint, Michigan still has lead contamination in their water. The pipes are finally being changed out and the families of the affected children were awarded a settlement. These issues are huge and show that even American cities have problems ensuring clean and safe drinking water for their population.

Poor Sewage

When we’re talking about safe water, it’s not just the stuff that comes into the home. Being connected to the local sewage line can make a huge difference in quality of life and health outcomes. Those living in more rural areas may be stuck draining their sewage onto the surface of their own property, sometimes directly into the soil if they’re unable to afford (and maintain a working) septic system. This leads to parasitic infections like hookworm and other health problems.

Even large sewage systems that generally work well can create huge public health problems. Heavy rains can cause overflow of the sewers that aren’t built to withstand it leads to higher rates of hospitalization for gastrointestinal problems. Sewage systems that overflow into large rivers — like Cincinnati with the Ohio — affect farming and other food sources.

Lead In the Pipes

Flint, Michigan isn’t the only place in the US with lead in their pipes. Nearly a third of U.S. water systems have service lines that contain lead. While this isn’t necessarily an immediate problem for the people drinking the water, it can easily turn into one. As these pipes age, they’re more likely to begin leaking lead into the town’s drinking water. Changes to the makeup of the water itself, like in Flint, can also cause the lead to start leaking. There are estimated to be millions of lead pipes in municipal drinking water systems in the US, making the detection, maintenance and replacement of them very important.

As mentioned above, the dangers of lead exposure are awful and potentially lifelong. It can cross the placenta and affect babies in the womb. For adults generally, it can cause cognitive decline, hypertension, and other health effects.

Low Income & Minority Populations

Unsurprisingly, some of the hardest hit communities with poor water and sewage systems include the lowest income areas as well minority locations — especially reservation land. In the Navajo Nation, home to 300,000 people, residents unknowingly drank, cooked, bathed and played in water that had been contaminated with uranium. More than 500 uranium mines were abandoned on and near the Navajo reservation after the Cold War. Lower income communities in general are often put on the backburner in terms of state and federal priorities, and the people who live there can’t afford to exist entirely on bottled water.

What We Can Do

This can feel like an insurmountable task sometimes, considering the many different states, counties and cities working to serve hundreds of millions of people. We can all work to push at the most local level to prioritize safe drinking water for all residents and proper upkeep over time that will ensure safe water in the future. We need to look at this as a problem for us now as well as the next generation. Make sure you’re aware of where your water comes from and check to see if there’s information on the safety and quality of the water. This goes for sewer systems as well. Not everyone is aware that heavy rains can cause a mingling of water and sewage systems that can affect your health and the health of those you love.