I guess we have all heard the comment, “You don’t want to know.” If it is followed up with “but you need to know”, we usually listen. I kind of thought of myself relatively well educated. I felt I understand the risks of modern life relatively well. I always wear my seat belt. I go to the doctor regularly for check-ups and cancer screenings. But, I had no idea about Flint. Worst, I was living in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area when the lead poisoning went on there, and I remember very little of it.
Last semester I learned that all the creeks and rivers in the Washington, D.C. area are so polluted with PCB’s that the Virginia Dept. of Wildlife recommends you limit yourself to eating only one fish a month caught in this area and you never eat fatty fish (e.g. carp) caught around here. Now the bad news is running into my house from the pipes. My home is no longer a refuge, it is the contaminant.
We started the semester questioning the relationship between experts and the public and how power and justice are distributed. We learned more and more about the water crisis in D.C. and Flint. We had engaging and thoughtful guest speakers. We were able to interview someone who was on the ground in Flint and get to learn their story. And yet, I end the class with a feeling of powerlessness. I even ask myself, wouldn’t it be nice to go back to the ignorant bliss of a few months ago? I can skip eating fish from the creek. I cannot skip drinking water.
So, the question is where do we go from here? Is water quality and environmental justice a new project for everyone? Was this class a sophisticated recruitment vehicle? The problem is this – if a Flint-type situation occurred in our neighborhood in the future, I think we would be better equipped to deal with the situation. We would at least know to call Yanna. But, could we forgive ourselves for not doing something about it sooner, because we know. Now we know.