‘Water, Water Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink’: How Water Pollution Affects

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Biden’s infrastructure bill takes some important steps toward greater water safety—but will he also confront our Pentagon and our water infrastructure’s reliance on unsafe or untested chemicals?

It’s time to talk about women’s economics with attitude. It’s time to laugh at what is often absurd and call out what is dangerous. By focusing on voices not typically part of mainstream man-to-man economic discourse, Women Unscrewing Screwnomics will bring you news of hopeful and practical changes and celebrate an economy waged as life—not as war. 


Tallulah Bankhead in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1944 movie, Lifeboat.

That familiar “rime” of the ancient mariner, written by Samual Coleridge in 1797, referred to our planet’s massive bodies of salt water, covering about 70 percent of the earth. Dangerous for any but fishes to drink, we’ve seen this saltwater trope repeated in seafaring lifeboat movies—a stout punch to the jaw from the captain saves thirsty survivors from madness. Wait to be rescued.

But Erin Brockovich delivers her own punch in the jaw with another familiar movie trope in her recent book’s title on our water crisis, Superman’s Not Coming. Even when, like Brockovich, you become a movie star and win millions of dollars in court settlements, you learn some of the damage isn’t fixable in court. Her honest appraisal of the continued devastation to Hinkley, California, and its people at the center of the movie by her name, could discourage you—if it weren’t for other stories she includes.

water pollution 'Water, Water Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink': How Water Pollution Affects Our Health—From Disrupted Hormones to Lead Poisoning
Brockovich’s “Superman’s Not Coming” examines how the water crisis is affecting our health, from disrupted hormones to lead poisoning. (Erin Brockovich)

She writes of women who studied up on their water, who ran for office, who organized and won legal cases—but never without being blocked and often losing. They all learn that ginormous corporations have lots of ways to keep on cutting corners on safety and cleanup for the sake of profit. But to play off another famous trope: What does it profit a man if his penis only shrinks, and his semen can’t swim?

That’s from a story Brockovich recently published in The Guardian that tells us the chemicals currently swimming in our water endanger sexuality, combining in ways hard to track, except by the results: disrupted hormones. Her source, this time, is the research of environmental epidemiologist Shanna Swan, whose studies at the school of medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, show a drop of 60 percent in sperm counts since 1973.

Swan and Brockovich are hardly alone in this claim. Dr. Theodora Colburn began to convene scientific conferences on hormone disruptor chemicals in 1991, sounding an alarm about BPAs and PCBs and the need for interdisciplinary research—conferences that came to be called “Wingspan.” Her 1997 book, Our Stolen Future, despite two co-authors, a foreward by Al Gore and a blurb by Robert Redford, was vilified by industry, much as Rachel Carson’s earlier Silent Spring was.

In a Frontline interview after its publication, Colburn called for a Manhattan Project-sized effort to bring scientists together and address the problem with the captains of industry. She died in 2014, and research and regulations on toxins remain puny—a match for men’s shrinking penis length and testes volume ever since.

Then, of course, there is lead; we’re more familiar with that poison. Biden’s proposed infrastructure bill includes money to replace a great many cities’ lead pipes that are now leaching. Lead is a chemical unsafe in any amount, and unfixable by any amount of dollars in settlement, since children who ingest it in their drinking water, as happened in Flint, will pay the price in their brain and body’s development for the rest of their lives. 

water pollution 'Water, Water Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink': How Water Pollution Affects Our Health—From Disrupted Hormones to Lead Poisoning
Sixty thousand chemicals have been let loose without having to prove they are safe, forming plumes of poison in our water. (Tony Webster /…



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