Testimony of Michele Roberts
The Independent Expert
On the Human Right to Water and Sanitation Mission to the United States
February 23, 2011
My name is Michele Roberts, and I am the Campaign and Policy Coordinator for Advocates for Environmental Human Rights ("AEHR"). AEHR is a human rights law firm dedicated to upholding our human right to a healthy environment. In the United States people of color struggle to defend their communities from the assaults of toxic industrial facilities, pesticides, and nuclear, uranium, and coal mining operations that have contaminated the water as well as the air and soil in their communities.
A 2005 report by the Associated Press documented that 79% of African Americans live in polluted neighborhoods. The U.S. General Accounting Office and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") have documented that people of color are disproportionately burdened with toxic pollution that harms human health.
The historic African American community of Mossville, Louisiana is a case in point. Mossville is surrounded by 14 toxic industrial facilities that spew millions of pounds of pollution into their environment every year. For over 15 years the community has complained to the government about their health and the safety of their drinking water. They have also been requesting that a sanitary sewer system be installed.
EPA finally conducted a comprehensive evaluation of the Mossville water system and in August, 2010, EPA reported that the water system needs upgrading to address the presence of heavy sediments and to maintain system integrity and viability. To date, no upgrades have been made.
The adequacy of the water supply system in Mossville is also at issue. In 2009, Mr. David Prince, a Mossville resident and member of Mossville Environmental Action Now, died as a consequence of burns he received in what began as a small kitchen fire at his home. Residents of Mossville reported that the water pressure in the community was very low that day, and the fire officials who initially came to the scene admitted that because of an inadequate number of fire hydrants in Mossville they could only fight the fire with water they were carrying on their trucks which was inadequate, requiring them to call fire fighting units from other locations to assist them.
There are many communities like Mossville across the United States. In Applachia water resources are fouled by coal extraction and mountain top removal; farming communities are impacted by the presence of toxic pesticides in their water, and indigenous communities have documented the damage to their water resources from oil, gas, uranium, and other extractive processes on their ancestral lands. In addition, in the aftermath of the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, toxic chemical dispersants were used for the so-called "clean up." However, scientific reports have documented that the dispersants have been ineffective in cleaning up the oil and are also harmful to the abundant aquatic life that is the source of food for a vast region of the United States.
All communities, especially communities of color, welcome the efforts of the Independent Expert to advance their human right to water and sanitation.
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