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EDITORIAL: Lead crisis must have public, swift solution

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The full actualization of an individual’s liberty is not found at the equilibrium of the market, but rather it is in the stomach of the no longer hungry, the mind of the no longer uneducated, the worker no longer dependent and the human no longer subjugated. 

We cannot accept a society in which the free exercise of human capabilities is constrained by the conditions in which people live. True freedom does not equate to a freedom enjoyed by one individual or group at the cost of a loss in freedom of others. 

When individuals are disadvantaged by their immutable characteristics or by their social circumstances, the “state possesses a social responsibility to reduce or remove these disadvantages to create equal, or at least more equal, life chances," according to Andrew Heywood's "Political Ideologies: An Introduction."

We have people in this country, in this state without access to clean water. Such realities must pierce the heart of our American exceptionalism. “No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the greater part of the members are poor and miserable," said philosopher Adam Smith.

After years of neglect, Newark, our state’s largest city now faces the dilemma that Flint, Michigan, residents have suffered and are still suffering today. Tens of thousands of residents have been told to drink only bottled water as “urgent new warnings from federal environmental officials about contamination in drinking water from aging lead pipes spread anxiety and fear across much of Newark,” according to The New York Times.

The direct effects of lead contamination include “anemia, weakness, and kidney and brain damage," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Also, lead “affects children more than it does adults and can result in adverse neurological effects and mental capabilities," according to NJ Advance Media.

The city is currently focusing on a permanent fix by “replacing 18,000 old lead pipes" for approximately 18,000 homes at risk, according to NJ Advance Media.

In the meantime, Newark is supplementing this project by distributing more than 70,000 cases of bottled water to residents serviced by the Pequannock Water Treatment Plant, which provides water to the city’s west side, according to PBS.

For those who have not experienced the rippling repercussions of contaminated water supplies, reports on the ground have shined a light on how the fear touches every part of one’s life. 

When experts on lead exposure and prevention programs and policies gathered last year to discuss prevention policy making on this devastating environmental problem afflicting urban areas across the nation, they agreed “decision makers and advocates do not explicitly consider equity in lead prevention policy making,” according to Human Impact Partners

This they found “leads to unintended negative consequences for people of color and low-income communities, who already bear a disproportionate burden of lead exposure across the United States.” One deep-cutting impact of these lead crises is the exacerbation of inequities and mistrust in governmental institutions.

When our representative government fails to uphold its duties and protect our freedom from want and suffering, mistrust and fear will strengthen its grasp on communities already underserved. The residents of Newark deserve swift action and urgent solutions. Hollow promises of the expediency of a potential corporate ownership solution muddy the already contaminated water of the city. 

We should not blindly assume corporations are better equipped to carry out the time and resource consuming task of replacing service lines on a block-by-block basis. This is especially true as “dozens of communities across Bergen and Hudson counties with corporate-owned water systems are dealing with their own lead problems,” according to NJ Advance Media

These corporate deals “are in reality one of the most expensive ways to finance a project, often called the ‘financing of last resort,'” according to NJ Advance Media. And, while private companies have not been proven to deliver essential services better than public agencies, they have been shown to charge more. They charge $229 more per year for a New Jersey family, according to Food & Water Watch.

The solutions taken to methodically solve the crisis must be provided through public measures supported by local, state and federal assistance. This does not mean that individuals and corporations should not provide donations and support to alleviate the traumatic experience of those impacted. Rutgers, with a campus in the city of Newark, must take significant steps to take part in supporting the community in which the University finds its home. 

We must have social and political institutions arranged so that our right to clean air, water and a healthy environment are recognized and protected as inalienable human rights deserving of the highest constitutional and legal protection. 

In the richest nation in the world, we should expect and demand more.

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority  of the 151st editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do  not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or  its staff. 

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