(NewsNation) – People in Jackson, Mississippi felt relieved from a month-long water crisis this week.
The Environmental Protection Agency claims that drinking water in the city is safe after numerous tests. Associated Press reporter Michael Goldberg spoke to NewsNation on Wednesday to bring out the latest details.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
NewsNation: The EPA says the water is safe to drink. What else are they saying to convince people it’s true?
Goldberg: The EPA told me on Monday that, based on samples taken from the Mississippi State Department of Health, the water is safe to drink and meets the standards of the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act. Although they determined that (test samples) for the levels of lead and copper in the water were collected, these results have not yet been obtained. They are expected in mid-November.
Therefore, they warn vulnerable populations, such as pregnant women (and) children, to follow the State Department’s health guidelines and proceed with caution until full results are available.
When it comes to rebuilding trust in the water system, it is certainly a long process. I have spoken to Jacksonians who have lived in the city all their lives and never drank tap water due to ongoing problems and just distrust. So rebuilding trust from the people of Jackson will surely be an ongoing process based on what local officials tell me.
NN: How far is the distrust?
Goldberg: It really goes back decades. Honestly, kind of like the collapse of Jackson’s water system until the 1970s, when federal spending on water infrastructure peaked. Over the past several decades, there have been periodic notifications about boiling water due to a failure of the water system. And even before the water crisis began in late August, the city had been banned from boiling water for a month because of turbid water samples taken in early summer. So it really is a long-term problem that didn’t come overnight in late August.
NN: How can this happen in one of our American cities? The second question is why did it take so long to fix this problem and then fix it?
Goldberg: Well, the question of how it happened certainly depends on who you ask.
Jackson’s Water Crisis Analysis is sort of a complex web of political and legal disputes that have involved city, state, and federal governments. Some blame the state and federal governments for not investing in Jackson’s water infrastructure to the extent requested by local officials. Others have found that the reality of the crisis can be attributed to poor governance at the city level related to the billing system and simply a kind of general day to day mismanagement.
Some people think it’s a kind of combination of many factors. … But of course we’ve seen water failures in Flint, Michigan and other cities. I think the locals are really counting on the whole country attention that has been drawn from this particular crisis will really speed up the work of many levels of government to finally repair this water system to get these answers.
Many times it will require investigation. The EPA says it will investigate coordination between state and local governments.
NN: You will have to investigate multiple times to get these answers. The EPA says it will investigate coordination between state and local governments. What is the status of this investigation at the moment?
Goldberg: NAACP called on the EPA to investigate the matter on the basis of its federal civil rights complaint. The argument of the NAACP is that the state government in particular has failed to exercise due diligence and funding. Jackson sent the money to most of Jackson’s white suburbs and prevented Jackson from raising his income through local sales tax and other resources to repair the water system.
So the EPA opened an investigation. Congressman Bennie Thompson, who represents the majority of Jackson, expects the investigation to take about four months. The water crisis is also the subject of two congressional investigations. One of the committees of inquiry is headed by Congressman Thompson, although the status of this investigation is unclear given that if Democrats lose a majority mid-term, the fate of these investigations – whether they continue or not – will be unclear. But the EPA investigation is moving forward.
NN: So you have an investigation on the one hand and the Safe Drinking Water Act on the other. Can the city still face the legal challenges?
Goldberg: It could. It is not clear at this point. Mayor Jackson said in a press conference on Monday that again, based on up-to-date samples collected by the EPA, the city is meeting standards set out in the Safe Drinking Water Act. The EPA previously threatened the City of Jackson with legal action if it refused to negotiate to develop a long-term water recovery plan to ensure that these structural problems were remedied.
And according to the EPA administrator, Jackson was involved in these talks and negotiations are ongoing. But again, (in the case of) some samples, the results have not been collected or have not been finalized yet. And negotiations are ongoing, so it would not be correct to say that Jackson is completely out of the woods legally.
NN: You just mentioned the concerns of many, especially pregnant women, about drinking water right now. The governor has declared a state of emergency that lasts for a few more weeks, almost until the end of November. What message do you send people when you talk about rebuilding trust?
GoldbergA: If you are thinking of the state of emergency when you do, technically the state of emergency has been in effect since August 30 and will technically end on November 22, Jackson, Mississippi residents have viewed the water system in the context of the state of emergency for a very long time.
It is not clear to me, from the conversations I have had with the Jackson residents, that they really are paying close attention to whether the emergency order will be extended or will end. They don’t trust Jackson’s water, and until they get a reason to trust the water system it’s unclear if they will.
But again, of course, it depends on who you’re talking to. There are others who believe that the city, state, and federal government are taking the necessary steps to solve the problems plaguing the water system. … The mayor said some problems would cost $ 1 billion to fix. … So it’s a long process again.
And I think that while there is a lot of confusion about who is to blame, most agree that it won’t be fixed overnight, and it’s a basic necessity.