Flint Revisited: The media’s overwhelming indifference to the existence and impact of environmental racism

Cohen, Tracey L.

Lead is a neurotoxin so potent that major environmental agencies, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have found that there is absolutely no safe level of exposure, especially for children who are the most vulnerable to its effects.[1] Despite there being no safe level of lead exposure for children, the EPA has established a 15 parts-per-billion (ppb) limit on lead in drinking water.[2] In Flint, Michigan, an impoverished and predominantly Black city,[3] the tap water that tens of thousands of children consumed and bathed in from April 2014 to October 2015 exceeded 15 ppb, with at least one sample registering greater than 1,000 ppb.[4]

While many are familiar with the Flint crisis due to its extensive media coverage, the impact that race played in the disaster was largely neglected by the mainstream media. Classic environmental racism was mostly ignored. The mainstream media overwhelmingly failed in their ethical obligation to report the environmental justice aspect of the calamity.

With the renewed awareness concerning racial justice taking place around the world, it is an instrumental time to bring the issue of environmental racism into focus. The media plays a key role in this task. Indeed, the media is ethically obligated to bring the issue of racism in all of its forms to the forefront before a wide, public audience. Environmental racism, which may easily be overlooked amidst more overt forms of prejudice, is no exception. It is imperative that we revisit how the issue of race was handled by the media during one of the more recent, and highly publicized environmental catastrophes.

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January 27, 2021