The Environmental Protection Agency issued a notification to the City of Jackson recently, saying the city failed to repair and maintain water equipment to reliably produce drinking water during the latest water crisis.
A news release on the EPA’s website mentioned the latest problems that were associated with the winter weather. Boil water notices have been issued for some areas of the city after a loss of water pressure and several schools were moved to virtual learning as a result. City Engineer Dr. Charles Williams says five years ago, he would have never thought JPS would have been impacted the way they have.
“These kids are just trying to learn. It’s even impacting our higher institutions of learning,” he said.
The order, which says the city violates the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, directs the city to outline a plan to “correct the significant deficiencies identified” in an EPA report within 45 days. The agency will conduct unannounced inspections of the plants and other industrial sites suspected of polluting air and water and causing health problems to nearby residents.
In October 2021, the lead counsel for the victims of the Flint, MI water crisis sued the city of Jackson, claiming city and state officials allowed dangerous levels of lead contamination in the water. Mayor Chokwe Lumumba scoffs at those claims and maintains that the drinking water is indeed safe.
“The city has been a part of several lead tests, corrosion studies issued by the EPA, and none of those studies have revealed lead on the city’s side,” he said.
Two-thirds of the 1,352 water samples taken since 2015 contain lead. Ninety of those were actionable by EPA standards.
The latest notification comes months after the EPA administrator Michael Regan toured the city of Jackson and saw the crumbling infrastructure in person. Regan spoke at Wilkins Elementary School the same day it was closed due to low water pressure. The EPA is scheduled to send follow-up letters this week to elected officials which will stress the importance of dedicating federal infrastructure funds to address some of the most pressing needs.
Mississippi will receive nearly $4.5 billion in federal funds from President Biden’s infrastructure bill over a five-year period for projects ranging from broadband, water infrastructure, roads and bridges, electric vehicle charging stations, and public transportation. The state will also receive $429 million for water system repairs, but that will be spread across the state. Estimates have put the price tag for Jackson’s repairs at $1 billion.
Williams said crews are making progress in the city’s most recent water crisis. Water pressure was in the mid-80s last week with the goal to get the water pressure in the 90s.
“The pressure is starting to get better,” he said. “Whenever this occurs, it takes a couple of days for the system to get back to proper levels.”
Last year, Regan visited low-income, mostly minority communities in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas as part of an effort to focus federal attention on communities adversely affected by decades of industrial pollution.
A Toxics Release Inventory prepared by the EPA shows that African Americans and other minority groups make up 56% of those living near toxic sites such as refineries, landfills, and chemical plants. Negative effects include chronic health problems such as asthma, diabetes, and hypertension.
Williams says his department is going to ensure that Mayor Chokwe Lumumba continues receiving accurate information while soliciting for the monies needed to solve those issues.
“From a technical perspective, we’re making sure we stand by and provide all relevant info whether that’s cost or areas of need,” he said. “We want to make sure the mayor is advised based on the facts.”