We’ve all seen the stories on television and perhaps even tales from earlier generations of carrying water long distances to survive. The pictures and fundraisers are always heart tugging, the countries impoverished and the situations dire. Water contamination in Alabama doesn’t immediately provide such heart pulling scenes. We’re more the country folk, the dusty and perhaps muddle cousins to the ads you’ve no doubt seen. We are many things in Alabama, and yet most of us are unaccustomed to carrying water to the fields, to hauling water to our homes, but we are learning.
In our home, the tacky brown house, we are comfortable though we are still in renovations, we have air conditioning. We are fortunate. The house provides for our needs, the inconvenience factor of contaminated water is what first stands out. No longer can I go to the refrigerator to push the ice button and then fill my glass with cold filtered water. No longer can I fill my pups bowls with water out of the tap, or feed the animals outside from a water hose. No longer can I deftly boil water for pasta without considering what chemicals I will be breathing, or may be in the pipes, or released as I mix tap water with cleaners. No longer can I can the harvest for the water may be unsafe to use, much less boil.
You read a little more each day, and watch a video or two to try to sort through the scariest outcomes to the common sense ones. Have you considered that when chemicals are in your water source, that adding heat may release them into your breathing environment? What about your dishwasher steam? What about long showers or taking hot baths. My creature comforts of daily life vanish. All now much be considered, calculated, and decided upon…and there are “truth testers” to verify what the media or your representatives tell you. Research tells you time and time again you’re being told a story of convenience, not truth or the depths of truths known.
It’s not just about what bottle of water you drink out of anymore, but why you’re having to buy water at all, while you still pay for your WMEL water that is questionable at best to drink from. You wonder daily why the system has failed its citizens, and you thank God for Don Mills, who told the truth about our dangers.
You begin to acclimate to the many times a day you took clean water from the tap for granted. You brush your teeth with bottled water. You start considering whether or not your garden is safe to eat. You stop watering anything from a water hose because city water simply isn’t safe any more. If you drink the amount of water each person is said to need, you start wondering what you’ll do with all the plastic refuse your household now requires. The water bottle wastes themselves, now creating even new issues for our community.
You avoid using the clothes dryer, for the EPA warnings say that particles flush through water, but may cling to clothing, that heating the water to vapor may release small particles into your family’s air. You line dry your clothes, it’s hot anyway, but you wonder just how much contamination truly exists between you and the water company’s testing. The contamination has been decades, and the testing minimum…you wonder exactly what it is you are washing, wearing next to your skin, and breathing….day in…day out.
When you quiet down or have time to consider, you start realizing your septic system has the capability of leeching this to the soil, and to the water table. While the research says the amounts of contaminant will diminish over time, you know that it’s been a long long time since authorities first recognized pollutants were in our area. You meet people who are sick, who share stories of their loved ones lost, their grandchildren struggling and who know that they are a part of what the corporations don’t want talked about. The “political” media says we have no problem, but our statistics of health, cancer, and deaths beg to differ. Today I am pretty certain the water won’t kill me, but the odds are that the past contamination and the present continued dumping in our river will harm my health if not my entire family’s health…over time…slowly…until we are measureably sick or our next generation damaged in utero.
You begin to understand that it’s not just a health hardship, but your budget is going to be different. You’re going to purchase water, you’re going to need to identify whether or not your well has been contaminated. You’re going to be spending time seeking bottled water and systems that our community isn’t being provided because our government has failed to identify this proven contamination as an emergency. You learn that each test, for yourself, for soil, for water well start in the $1200 range and up…IF you can find a lab willing to take your samples through the difficult, but necessary process of capturing with a chain of custody passage process. You’re going to need to budget time for community meetings, education and time to really consider each step for your family.
You recognize that the value of the land you’ve worked hard to plan a life on, just lost it’s ability to provide for your children a nest egg to build from. That less than 2 months ago you were celebrating dreams come true, only to find that this particular dream may turn out to have been a nightmare you are now awake to. That you cannot sell or buy a home with known contamination, and most of us do not see how starting over, when you still have your investment money tied up will work. Litigation, if won, may take decades, meanwhile there are decisions to be made about this day and tomorrow and what the future may need to be.
You realize that paying cash for your home at least puts you in a better situation than others who are now unable to even sell their home…and have to keep paying for it, knowing that the very soil and home they are paying for may be a threat to their family’s health.
As you carefully consider every drop of purchased water you consume, you realize how blessed you are that you can afford to purchase water. It’s 100 degrees, and many of our community not only cannot purchase it, but cannot afford the fuel to go receive donated water. We won’t even dare to think long on the many who will go without because of infirmities, transportation or pride that won’t take charity.
With each passing day you recognize that the water problems are not going away any time soon. You can count on only one thing, that time will reveal just how many ways the people of North Alabama will suffer because of decisions made in greed and at times, in ignorance of what allowing chemicals to be poured into our land, our river, and our people will cost….the generations present…and those to come.
You lean hard in to the scriptures that promise no weapon formed against me will prosper for your family… and you pray for wisdom to make the right choices as we go.