Whom to Trust in Troubled Water? Not the Government: North Carolina is Failing to Protect Contamination Victims

By Shawn Collins of The Collins Law Firm, P.C.

Unfortunately, Deborah and Ralph Graham of Dukeville, North Carolina can now be added to the large and growing list of American families who are learning the hard way that they cannot trust their government to protect them against chemical contamination, even though the Grahams pay their government (in taxes) to do precisely that.

The Charlotte Observer describes how the Grahams have recently learned from the state's Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) that the water they use for bathing, cooking and drinking is contaminated with what North Carolina has concluded are dangerous levels of chemicals, and that the Grahams should no longer use the water.

But then the Grahams started to experience the sadly familiar behavior that will prove that their government is not protecting them, and in fact is behaving more like an advocate for polluters. For example:

  1. The Grahams learn that DENR had the test results on the Grahams' water-showing that the water was threatening the family's health-for 52 days before bothering to tell the Grahams about it. (And how long did DENR wait to even conduct the test of the Grahams' water after it learned the information that caused the agency to want to do the testing in the first place?)
  2. DENR then tries to tell the Grahams that they shouldn't worry about the contamination, because, even though the state defines the contamination as dangerous, the federal government does not. In other words, DENR says to the Grahams: "Even though we've told you that your water is so contaminated that you should stop using it, it really isn't that dangerous after all." At best, this only confuses families that need clarity. At worst, this is the state of North Carolina abandoning its own definition of what is dangerous to human health.

Shame on DENR. It's supposed to be the Grahams' (and their neighbors') staunchest protector, and provider of clear and useful information. Instead, DENR is behaving like a thoughtless bureaucrat-i.e., allowing the Grahams to drink for more than 6 weeks water that DENR knows is dangerous-and an apologist for polluters-i.e., telling the Grahams that the state's own standards of what are dangerous levels of chemicals are not to be taken seriously.

And all of this comes on the heels of what The Charlotte Observer terms as DENR's "history of being disturbingly cozy" with Duke Energy-a noted environmental threat whose coal ash has been spewed all over North Carolina.

DENR is supposed to be on the Grahams' side, not Duke's.

A few years ago, I wrote an article called, "Stand Up and Fight". It's about how families like the Grahams can band together with their neighbors to shame their government into doing its job to protect them. There is great power in the collective action and voices of families like the Grahams, when they learn that their neighborhood has been contaminated, that their government is not on their side, and that it is up to them to see that the right thing is done.

Here's wishing that the Grahams and their neighbors will do just that...and that, one day soon, DENR will remember who it's really supposed to be working for.

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