Water inequity runs through many of my most formative stories, exposing cracks in the world around me. I grew up building fairy houses and preparing tiny feasts of acorn-cap soup using sudsy water from a nearby tributary of the Passaic River. The stream jutted up against a hotel parking lot and served as a dumping ground. From a young age, I didn’t understand why water pollution was tolerable.
My life changed when I met people contaminated by per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in Merrimack, New Hampshire. I then decided I would make it my mission to join contaminated communities in the fight for water justice. The Merrimack residents had been unknowingly consuming contaminated water for over twenty years due to air emissions and industry discharges into waterways from a Saint Gobain facility. In conjunction with Community Action Works and Merrimack Citizens for Clean Water, I went door to door passing out community health surveys to identify possible links between PFAS contamination and adverse health impacts. I talked to people who were angry, skeptical, sick, and in shock. The situation in Merrimack is not an isolated incident. A 2003 study found that 99.9% of Americans have PFAS in their blood, and an ongoing study has mapped 1,582 PFAS contamination sites in 49 United States. It made no sense to me why PFAS were not federally regulated, so I decided to complete independent research on PFAS regulation.
Upon graduation from college, I studied bed mobility and salmon spawning on the Narraguagus River. The research team and I camped at a United States Geological Survey field station that lacked access to running water while we were there. We used a nearby airport diner to fill up water bottles and use the bathroom. The airport served ‘agricultural aircrafts’ that applied pesticides in the neighboring blueberry fields that would leach into the Narraguagus.
In 2019, I moved to Malaysia with the Fulbright Program to work at a secondary school. The community I lived in and worked with lacked access to clean water. Many homes contained large vats of water to use when the town water ran out, which often happened. At school, sugary drinks were significantly more abundant and cheaper than bottled water. I proposed to teachers that I could raise money to buy a filter for the school. They said that it would be a waste of time and money, as they had had one before, and students had broken it.
My passion for water justice springs from deep frustration and bewilderment at the normalization of water inequity around me. To address water access issues, we need to confront systemic racism and poverty. I believe clean water is a human right and am thrilled to be working for a company that thinks so too. Blue Access’s commitment to listening to, learning from, and investing in communities that lack access to clean water brings me hope.
Image: Fairy house by a stream.