Saving America – Page 6

(cont. from Page 5)

In the end, some five hundred people in the area were admitted to hospitals, including a legislator in the West Virginia House of Representatives, who almost lost her eyesight. Delegate Tiffany Lawrence woke in a Charleston hotel room to find one of her eyes swollen shut. It took an emergency room visit, fifteen rounds of antibiotics, and five days in the hospital to clear up the aggressive staph infection that could have taken her sight and, worse, spread to her brain. “We must . . . do all we can to ensure this never happens again,” Lawrence later told fellow delegates in a speech on the House floor.

I hate to say it, but this sounds an awful lot like Governor Pawlenty’s news conference held next to the I-35 bridge two days after the fact. It might not surprise you to learn that state inspectors hadn’t visited the offending plant for thirteen years. Whether the House of Delegates failed to vote to provide adequate budgetary resources to the department charged with chemical plant inspections, or whether they had simply failed to hold employees there accountable for performing their responsibilities, Ms. Lawrence and her peers had the ability to safeguard the water well before the incident. Rather than give speeches on the House floor, Ms. Lawrence would have been well served to look in the mirror and roll up her sleeves to become proactive rather than reactive in identifying and solving problems across the entire portfolio of services man-aged by her state’s government.

I’ve focused on the Charleston chemical spill, but a 2009 New York Times analysis of federal data revealed that since 2004, more than sixty- two million Americans had been exposed to drinking water that was in violation of government health guidelines. A related report exposed the fact that more than 20 percent of water treatment systems in the United States violated the Safe Water Drinking Act in the same five- year period. “Since 2004, the water provided to more than 49 million people has contained illegal concentrations of chemicals like arsenic or radioac-tive substances like uranium, as well as dangerous bacteria often found in sewage,” according to the Times report. Incredibly, state and federal authorities penalized fewer than 6 percent of violators. The report cited waning government oversight as a key reason that water pollution was on the rise. Most ominously, it appears that violations have occurred in parts of every single state. This is not a worry just for the good citizens… Next Page