Jackson, Miss. — In mid-September, Howard Sanders hit the pothole-filled streets in a white Cadillac, weighing in with bottles of water on his way home in Ward 3, a neglected neighborhood he called “a war zone.”
Sanders, then director of marketing and outreach for Central Mississippi Health Services, was welcomed at the door by Jonny Jones. Since Jones underwent hip surgery about a month ago, the 74-year-old had used a walker to get around and had not been able to visit any of the city’s water distribution sites.
In late August, Jackson’s regular water problems became so severe that President Joe Biden declares a state of emergency: Flooding and water treatment facility problems had cut off most of the Black City’s water supply. However the water pressure returned and a Boiling water advisory removed In mid-September the problems are not over.
Bottled water is still a way of life. The city’s roughly 150,000 residents should be vigilant – making sure they don’t wash their toothbrushes with tap water, keep their mouths shut when they shower, rethink cooking plans, or budget for gas so they can’t use water. be able to drive around in search of Many residents buy bottled water to pay water bills, which means less money for everything else. For Jackson’s poorest and oldest residents, who can’t leave their homes or pick up water matters, escaping questionable water becomes just as difficult.
“We are shocked, we are in shock,” Sanders said.
Jackson’s water crisis is a manifestation of a deeper health crisis in Mississippi, whose residents have widespread chronic diseases. it’s with the state minimum life expectancy And this highest infant mortality rate,
“Water is a window into the neglect that many people have experienced for most of their lives,” said Richard Mizzell Jr.., historian of medicine at the University of Houston. “Using bottled water for the rest of your life is not sustainable.”
But an alternative doesn’t exist in Jackson, Dr. Robert Smith said. He founded Central Mississippi Health Services in 1963 as the result of his work on civil rights, and the organization now operates four free clinics in the Jackson area. He often sees patients with several health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure or heart problems. And unsafe water can cause death for people who do dialysis at home, immunocompromised individuals, or children who drink formula, Smith said.
residents filed a lawsuit Against the city and private engineering firms responsible for the city’s water system this month, claiming they have experienced several health problems – dehydration, malnutrition, lead poisoning, E. coli exposure, hair loss, skin rashes , and digestive problems – as a result of contaminated water. The lawsuit alleges that lead levels in Jackson’s water have risen, A finding confirmed by the Mississippi State Department of Health,
whereas Jackson’s current water situation is at its peakMany communities of color, low-income communities, and large proportions of non-native English speakers also have unsafe water, said eric olson, senior strategic director of health and food at the Natural Resources Defense Council. These communities are more often subjected to violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act, according to A study by a non-profit advocacy group, And it takes longer for those communities to get back into compliance with the law, Olson said.
The federal infrastructure bill passed last year includes $50 billion to improve the country’s drinking water and wastewater systems, Although Mississippi is set to receive $429 million of that funding over five years, Jackson must wait – And fight – for your part.
And communities often spend years with disease and trauma. Five years after the start of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, about 20% of the city’s adult residents had clinical depression, and nearly a quarter had post-traumatic stress disorder, according to one Recent paper published in JAMA,
Jones, like many locals, has not relied on Jackson’s waters for decades. That distrust – and the constant vigilance, extra expense and hassle – add a layer of psychological stress.
“It’s very stressful,” Jones said.
For the city’s poorest communities, the water crisis sits on top of existing stresses, including crime and unstable housing, said Dr. Obie McNair, chief operating officer for Central Mississippi Health Services. “It’s additive.”
Over time, that effort and adjustment takes a toll, said chief operating officer Mouda Monger. my brother’s Keeper, a community health equity nonprofit in Jackson. Chronic stress and inability to access care can exacerbate chronic diseases and lead to premature birth, all of which are prevalent in Jackson. “Bad health outcomes don’t happen in a short period of time,” she said.
For Jackson’s health clinics, the water crisis has reshaped their role. To prevent health problems caused by drinking or bathing in dirty water, they are providing clean water to the most needy of the city.
“We want to be part of the solution,” McNair said.
Community health centers in the state have a long history of filling gaps in services for Mississippi’s poorest residents, said Terence Shirley, CEO of the Community Health Center Association of Mississippi. “There was a time when community health centers actually went out and dug wells for their patients.”
Central Mississippi Health Services had been supplying water for residents about twice a month since February 2021, when a winter storm left Jackson without water for weeks.
But in August, things got so bad again that Sanders asked listeners of a local radio show to call the center if water was not available. Many Jackson residents cannot travel to city delivery sites due to work schedules, lack of transportation, or physical disabilities.
“Now, all of a sudden, I’m the water man,” Sanders said.
Thelma Kinney Cornelius, 72, first heard about Sanders’ water delivery from her radio performance. He has not been able to drive since being treated for colon cancer in 2021. She rarely cooks these days. But he made an exception a few Sundays ago by forgoing the case of bottled water to make a pot of rice and peas.
“It’s a lot of adjustment trying to get into that routine,” Cornelius said. “It’s difficult.”
The day Jackson’s boil-water advice was lifted, Sanders was diagnosed with a hernia, probably from lifting heavy water cases, he said. Still, the next day, Sanders walked around the Wierden Editions neighborhood with other volunteers, knocking on people’s doors and asking if they needed water.
He said he had no plans to stop the water supply as residents of Jackson grapple with a long-term decline from the heat crisis. People are still concerned about lead or other harmful contaminants lurking in the water.
“It’s like a little third world country over here,” Sanders said. “To be honest, we’ll probably be at it next year.”
KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that conducts in-depth journalism about health issues. Along with policy analysis and polling, KHN is one of three major operational programs. kff (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is a thriving non-profit organization that provides information on health issues to the nation.
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