Story at a glance
- Environmental pollution and climate change disproportionately harms Black, Indigenous and other communities of color.
- A new survey reveals that Black and Hispanic Americans are less confident in the quality and safety of their water than white Americans.
- Efforts to improve such infrastructure also require community outreach and cooperation, says the CEO of SOURCE, a solar hydropanel company.
Black and Hispanic Americans are drinking more bottled water during the coronavirus pandemic, and it's not because of marketing. A new survey found that these communities are less confident in the quality and safety of their tap water than white Americans.
More than a third of Black Americans and Hispanic Americans are concerned about contamination and think access to clean water is a problem in the United States, according to a new survey commissioned by SOURCE Global, a hydropanel company, compared to 28 percent of white Americans.
“Lack of trust leads to lack of security and a lack of access,” said SOURCE CEO Cody Friesen.
So how do you fix that?
“We unwind or correct what is otherwise a massive gap starting with trust issues to infrastructure issues and leapfrog to technology providing a solution.”
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Their mistrust is grounded in the experiences of the more than 30 million people in the United States who lived in areas where water violated safety rules in early 2019. Data from the Environmental Protection Agency between 2010-16 shows that drinking water systems that constantly violate the law are 40 percent more likely to serve people of color — and take longer to become compliant.
“It’s clear that our nation’s water issues pose an immediate and quickly worsening health risk, and that’s especially true for BIPOC communities, who are also dealing with an outsized impact from COVID-19,” said Neil Grimmer, brand president of SOURCE Global, in a release.
SOURCE wants to do for drinking water what solar did for electricity, taking “the brain trust” from the renewable energy industry and applying it not only to infrastructure but also social equity. The company is partnering with local community leaders, such as Reverend Leo Woodberry in Florence, S.C., to address environmental racism. There and in other parts of the United States, where poor, nonwhite Americans suffer from a lack of clean drinking water, the company’s solar powered hydropanels allow communities more control over their water quality.
“It’s heroes like Rev. Woodberry that get me out of bed in the morning,” said Friesen, who sees this as “just the beginning.”
“We’re fighting two battles: climate change is increasingly threatening our access to water, and the way we live is contaminating water in ways even the most modern water infrastructure can’t handle, let alone the countless water systems that lack funding for up-to-date infrastructure,” said Grimmer in a release. “We firmly believe that safe water is a fundamental human right, not a matter of where you live or the color of your skin, which is why we need to focus our efforts on delivering renewable, climate-resilient resources across the globe, independent of infrastructure, to help mitigate this critical issue.”
Friesen understands the urgency of the problem for communities on the frontlines of climate change, which are disproportionately Black. The ubiquity of solar solutions has allowed the company to install its hydropanels, which are optimized for varying conditions of sunlight and humidity and have a lifespan of 15 years, in 48 countries, including some of the more remote parts of the world.
“We can’t just keep slapping bandaids on the problem, we have to think about how we use technology to solve some of our greatest societal challenges,” he said.
But there’s still hope, experts say. The Biden administration has committed to prioritizing environmental justice in its climate efforts and the country seems to be on the same page. The survey found that nearly half, in this case 46 percent, of Americans see water scarcity as one of the most important and immediate water-related climate change issues requiring government support.
“While tackling climate change will take decades, we have the technology and know-how to fix our water issues right now,” Grimmer said in the release. “In a time of so many daunting and complex challenges, that’s good news for America, and the world."
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