Three mothers from Flint, Michigan, a city dealing with toxic, lead-contaminated tap water, shared a gymnasium with local residents at St. Mary’s Academy in Hoosick Falls, where water has been tainted with the carcinogen PFOA.
Darlene McClendon, a Flint teacher, talked about how fear and mistrust have spread throughout her student population.
McClendon said after the lead issue was discovered, students came to school with tears in their eyes. She talked about the garbage bags draped over water fountains and a filtration system at the school that still is not up and running.
She also noticed behavioral changes in her students.
“It’s sad to teach a lesson over and over and over and the students still don’t get it. They have nervous problems, they sit there, they can’t be still. They can’t attend. They can’t…It’s hard. It’s very hard watching this day after day,” said McClendon.
Flint mother Danika Jackson said she takes her kids out of town to take a bath.
“We never thought that this would be, ‘Mom, are we going away this weekend so we can get in the bath? Because I kept the water on in that bathroom and that water is still brown,’” said Jackson.
Flint mother and political organizer LaShaya Darisaw said many of her neighbors have little trust in government. Several, she said, have chosen to not vote this November.
Darisaw was asked how she was able to get elected leaders to pay attention to the issue.
“I gave ’em hell,” said Darisaw.
Darisaw has brought hundreds of affected residents to Michigan’s state capitol seeking solutions.
Flint’s water crisis is inspiring political action across the country.
In September, New York became the first state to require schools to test for lead after high concentrations of the heavy metal were found in several districts, including in nearby Voorheesville.
Perhaps most important to those living with water tainted with toxic PFOA, the Flint mothers said they were not alone.
“And we feel you. We know what you’re going through. And we hope it never has to happen to any other community, ever,” said McClendon.
The residents of Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh shared stories of illness and cancer in themselves and their pets.
While company Saint-Gobain has paid for filtration systems on the Hoosick Falls municipal water system and on private wells, a filtration system has not yet been put on the small public system in nearby Petersburgh, where company Taconic has been identified as the polluter by state agencies.
The Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh residents on the panel did not hold back against state health and environmental officials or the companies in question.
Vocal residents Michelle Baker and Emily Marpe urged the audience to keep their governments and the companies in question accountable.
“Accountability lies in this room,” said Baker. “It lies with our students, our children, ur family, our neighbors, our elected officials, and the gals up here with us. Because if we don’t speak up—“
“Nobody’s going to do anything,” said Marpe.
“—and we don’t keep them accountable whether its elected officails or companies that are dumping chemicals, then we’ve failed as a community,” said Baker.