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Detroit's Water War: a tap shut-off that could impact 300,000 people
Article Posted By by Martin Lukacs on The theguardian.com
Children in Detroit attending a rally against water shut-offs in the city on June 20, 2014. Photograph: Justin Wedes
It was six in the morning when city contractors showed up unannounced at Charity Hicks' house.
Since spring, up to 3000 Detroit households per week have been getting their water shut-off – for owing as little as $150 or two months in bills. Now it was the turn of Charity's block – and the contractor wouldn't stand to wait an hour for her pregnant neighbour to fill up some jugs.
"Where's your water termination notice?" Charity demanded, after staggering to the contractor's truck. A widely-respected African-American community leader, she has been at the forefront of campaigns to ensure Detroiters' right to public, accessible water.
The contractor's answer was to drive away, knocking Charity over and injuring her leg. Two white policemen soon arrived – not to take her report, but to arrest her. Mocking Charity for questioning the water shut-offs, they brought her to jail, where she spent two days before being released without charge.
Welcome to Detroit's water war – in which upward of 150,000 customers, late on bills that have increased 119 percent in the last decade, are now threatened with shut-offs. Local activists estimate this could impact nearly half of Detroit's mostly poor and black population – between 200,000 and 300,000 people.
"There are people who can't cook, can't clean, people coming off surgery who
can't wash. This is an affront to human dignity," Charity said in
an interview with Kate Levy. To make matters worse, children risk being
taken by welfare authorities from any home without running water.
Denying water to thousands, as a sweltering summer approaches, might be bad enough in itself. But these shut-offs are no mere exercise in cost-recovery.
The official rationale for the water shut-downs – the Detroit Water Department's need to recoup millions – collapses on inspection. Detroit's high-end golf club, the Red Wing's hockey arena, the Ford football stadium, and more than half of the city's commercial and industrial users are also owing – a sum totalling $30 million. But no contractors have showed up on their doorstep.
The targetting of Detroit families is about something else. It is a ruthless case of the shock doctrine – the exploitation of natural or unnatural shocks of crisis to push through pro-corporate policies that couldn't happen in any other circumstance.
The first shock was the slow disaster that struck Detroit over the last four
decades: the flight of corporations toward cheaper, overseas labour; the
movement of white, wealthier Detroiters to the suburbs, draining the city's
tax base; a Wall Street-driven financial crisis that left many homeless or
jobless; and the deliberate starving of the city of funds owed them by the
Republican state legislature.
On its heels has come a round of economic shock therapy: taking advantage of the severe decline in revenue from Detroit's first shock, the media, corporations and right-wing politicians drummed up a crisis of fearabout financial debt. This has become the pretext for a rapid-fire assault on Detroit's public resources: an attempt to dismantle its schools, to slash its pensions, and to transfer its parks and art and land into the hands of private corporations.
The public water system, a prized resource worth billions and sitting on the Great Lakes, is now the latest target – and the water shut-offs are a way to make the balance-sheet more attractive in the lead up to its privatization.
As Detroiters like Charity Hicks have taken a stand, they have been met by a third shock: literal blows of police force and violence, intended to dampen any resistance.
Taking full advantage of Detroit's plight required the removal of another obstacle: democracy. No Detroit politician, subject to the pressures of an electorate, could imagine going after the city's water. But in 2013, using Detroit's debt as his excuse, Michigan's Republican governor Rick Synder imposed an "emergency manger" – a trustee to govern Detroit unilaterally. When Detroiters overwhelmingly voted in a referendum against the "emergency manager" law, Synder passed a new one overnight – with a provision rendering referendums meaningless.
Having made his reign democracy-proof, Detroit's emergency manager has proceeded to drive the city toward bankruptcy. With the bankruptcy dominating media headlines across the country, the real nature of Detroit's crisis has been obscured and ignored. It has left the banks and corporations free to pursue a liquidation of the city's assets. And nothing is off the table.
There is one other way the situation in Detroit would never have come to pass: if this was a city predominantly of white people instead of black. Too much of America views Detroit like the policemen viewed Charity – as deviant, inferior and beyond repair. This racism has meant decades of block-busting, red-lining, police brutality and the legislative punishment of the city. And it has done something more insidious: it has written off the people of Detroit.
"Every day, we're shown that black lives, black quality of life, black communities, don't matter," says Charity.
The attitude was expressed in a recent statement of L Brooks Patterson, the elected executive of the mostly white Detroit suburb of Oakland: "I made a prediction a long time ago, and it’s come to pass. I said, 'What we’re going to do is turn Detroit into an Indian reservation, where we herd all the Indians into the city, build a fence around it, and then throw in the blankets and corn.'"
The US banks and corporations who now have Detroit on the hook want these ugly truths to stay submerged. They haven't flinched while the water has been shut-off. Nor did they flinch when Detroiters' heat was cut – in 2013, before the worst winter on record, 169,407 households were disconnected. But they loudly protested when organizations proposed a tour of the city for the US judge who will rule on Detroit's bankruptcy – that, they insisted, would be too "dangerous."
The view the judge would see is in radical contrast to Detroit's prevailing image: a city with a flowering network of community gardens, more than any in the United States, feeding residents and nurturing solidarity; a rich artistic and musical culture; and neighbourhoods organizing for meaningful education and to restore local democracy. No one denies Detroit is racked by crime, poverty and unemployment – but it is also hard to miss its vibrant renewal.
It is from this incredible web that a challenge to the water shut-offs is emerging. Community organizations have filed a human rights complaint to the United Nations, demanding Michigan state impose a moratorium on the shut-offs. UN experts have already responded critically. There are daily acts of civil disobedience: cars being parked over water valves to prevent shut-offs; neighbours teaching each other to turn the water back on. A new initiative called the Detroit Water Brigade – an Occupy Sandy-style response to disaster zones created by the deprivation of water instead of its excess – is accepting supplies from around the country, opening local service hubs, and coordinating calls to action.
And the Detroit People's Water Board, a broad coalition co-founded by Charity Hicks, continues its work of raising consciousness about water justice and conservation, setting out a vision for water as a public trust, not a commodity – a source of life, not of private enrichment."This is a test being looked at by cities across the US - even the world," Charity says. "We will not let water be used as a weapon to remake the city in a corporate image. We will re-establish what it is to live in a democracy, with a water system that is part of the commons, that affirms human dignity and that ensures everyone's access."
Bad Plumbing Brings on Mold Problems
What are molds?
Molds are fungi that can be found both indoors and outdoors. No one knows how many species of fungi exist but estimates range from tens of thousands to perhaps three hundred thousand or more. Molds grow best in warm, damp, and humid conditions, and spread and reproduce by making spores. Mold spores can survive harsh environmental conditions, such as dry conditions, that do not support normal mold growth.
What are some of the common indoor molds?
How do molds affect people?
Some people are sensitive to molds. For these people, exposure to molds can cause symptoms such as nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, wheezing, or skin irritation. Some people, such as those with serious allergies to molds, may have more severe reactions. Severe reactions may occur among workers exposed to large amounts of molds in occupational settings, such as farmers working around moldy hay. Severe reactions may include fever and shortness of breath. Some people with chronic lung illnesses, such as obstructive lung disease, may develop mold infections in their lungs.
In 2004 the Institute of Medicine (IOM) found there was sufficient evidence to link indoor exposure to mold with upper respiratory tract symptoms, cough, and wheeze in otherwise healthy people; with asthma symptoms in people with asthma; and with hypersensitivity pneumonitis in individuals susceptible to that immune-mediated condition. The IOM also found limited or suggestive evidence linking indoor mold exposure and respiratory illness in otherwise healthy children. In 2009, the World Health Organization issued additional guidance, the WHO Guidelines for Indoor Air Quality: Dampness and Mould [PDF - 2.52 MB]. Other recent studies have suggested a potential link of early mold exposure to development of asthma in some children, particularly among children who may be genetically susceptible to asthma development, and that selected interventions that improve housing conditions can reduce morbidity from asthma and respiratory allergies, but more research is needed in this regard.
Where are molds found?
Molds are found in virtually every environment and can be detected, both indoors and outdoors, year round. Mold growth is encouraged by warm and humid conditions. Outdoors they can be found in shady, damp areas or places where leaves or other vegetation is decomposing. Indoors they can be found where humidity levels are high, such as basements or showers.
How can people decrease mold exposure?
Sensitive individuals should avoid areas that are likely to have mold, such as compost piles, cut grass, and wooded areas. Inside homes, mold growth can be slowed by controlling humidity levels and ventilating showers and cooking areas. If there is mold growth in your home, you should clean up the mold and fix the water problem. Mold growth can be removed from hard surfaces with commercial products, soap and water, or a bleach solution of no more than 1 cup of bleach in 1 gallon of water.
If you choose to use bleach to clean up mold:
· Never mix bleach with ammonia or other household cleaners. Mixing bleach with ammonia or other cleaning products will produce dangerous, toxic fumes.
· Open windows and doors to provide fresh air.
· Wear non-porous gloves and protective eye wear.
· If the area to be cleaned is more than 10 square feet, consult the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guide titled Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings. Although focused on schools and commercial buildings, this document also applies to other building types. You can get it by going to the EPA web site athttp://www.epa.gov/mold/mold_remediation.html .
· Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using bleach or any other cleaning product.
· Keep humidity levels as low as you can—no higher than 50%--all day long. An air conditioner or dehumidifier will help you keep the level low. Bear in mind that humidity levels change over the course of a day with changes in the moisture in the air and the air temperature, so you will need to check the humidity levels more than once a day.
· Use an air conditioner or a dehumidifier during humid months.
· Be sure the home has adequate ventilation, including exhaust fans.
· Add mold inhibitors to paints before application.
· Clean bathrooms with mold killing products.
· Do not carpet bathrooms and basements.
· Remove or replace previously soaked carpets and upholstery.
What areas have high mold exposures?
· Antique shops
· Construction areas
· Flower shops
· Summer cottages
I found mold growing in my home, how do I test the mold?
Generally, it is not necessary to identify the species of mold growing in a residence, and CDC does not recommend routine sampling for molds. Current evidence indicates that allergies are the type of diseases most often associated with molds. Since the susceptibility of individuals can vary greatly either because of the amount or type of mold, sampling and culturing are not reliable in determining your health risk. If you are susceptible to mold and mold is seen or smelled, there is a potential health risk; therefore, no matter what type of mold is present, you should arrange for its removal. Furthermore, reliable sampling for mold can be expensive, and standards for judging what is and what is not an acceptable or tolerable quantity of mold have not been established.
A qualified environmental lab took samples of the mold in my home and gave me the results. Can CDC interpret these results?
Standards for judging what is an acceptable, tolerable, or normal quantity of mold have not been established. If you do decide to pay for environmental sampling for molds, before the work starts, you should ask the consultants who will do the work to establish criteria for interpreting the test results. They should tell you in advance what they will do or what recommendations they will make based on the sampling results. The results of samples taken in your unique situation cannot be interpreted without physical inspection of the contaminated area or without considering the building’s characteristics and the factors that led to the present condition.
What type of doctor should I see concerning mold exposure?
You should first consult a family or general health care provider who will decide whether you need referral to a specialist. Such specialists might include an allergist who treats patients with mold allergies or an infectious disease physician who treats mold infections. If an infection is in the lungs, a pulmonary physician might be recommended. Patients who have been exposed to molds in their workplace may be referred to an occupational physician. CDC is not a clinical facility. CDC does not see patients, diagnose illness, provide treatment, prescribe medication, or provide referrals to health care providers.
My landlord or builder will not take any responsibility for cleaning up the mold in my home. Where can I go for help?
If you feel your property owner, landlord, or builder has not been responsive to concerns you’ve expressed regarding mold exposure, you can contact your local board of health or housing authority. Applicable codes, insurance, inspection, legal, and similar issues about mold generally fall under state and local (not federal) jurisdiction. You could also review your lease or building contract and contact local or state government authorities, your insurance company, or an attorney to learn more about local codes and regulations and your legal rights. CDC does not have enforcement power in such matters, nor can we provide you with advice. You can contact your county or state health department about mold issues in your area to learn about what mold assessment and remediation services they may offer. You can find information on your state's Indoor Air Quality program at http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/airpollution/indoor_air.htm.
I'm sure that mold in my workplace is making me sick.
If you believe you are ill because of exposure to mold in the building where you work, you should first consult your health care provider to determine the appropriate action to take to protect your health. Notify your employer and, if applicable, your union representative about your concern so that your employer can take action to clean up and prevent mold growth. To find out more about mold, remediation of mold, or workplace safety and health guidelines and regulations, you may also want to contact your local (city, county, or state) health department.
I am very concerned about mold in my children’s school and how it affects their health.
If you believe your children are ill because of exposure to mold in their school, first consult their health care provider to determine the appropriate medical action to take. Contact the school’s administration to express your concern and to ask that they remove the mold and prevent future mold growth. If needed, you could also contact the local school board.
CDC is not a regulatory agency and does not have enforcement authority in local matters. Your local health department may also have information on mold, and you may want to get in touch with your state Indoor Air Quality office. Information on this office is available athttp://www.cdc.gov/nceh/airpollution/indoor_air.htm.
You can also read the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines, Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings, at http://www.epa.gov/mold/mold_remediation.html . Also, see these Web sites for more indoor air quality tools for schools:
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