Our Most Precious Resource: A National Water Quality Month Reading List

August is National Water Quality Month, a time to reflect on what we are doing to both prevent water pollution and preserve water resources around the country. Check out the list below to learn more about water history, climate change, and the future of water in the western US.

The Atlas of Water: Mapping the World’s Most Critical Resource by Maggie Black

Using vivid graphics, maps, and charts, The Atlas of Water explores the complex human interaction with water around the world. This vibrant atlas addresses all the pressing issues concerning water, from water shortages and excessive demand, to dams, pollution, and privatization, all considered in terms of the growing threat of an increasingly unpredictable climate. It also outlines critical tools for managing water, providing safe access to water, and preserving the future of the world’s water supply.

 

Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and the Fate of America’s Children by Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner

In this incisive examination of lead poisoning during the past half century, Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner focus on one of the most contentious and bitter battles in the history of public health. Lead Wars details how the nature of the epidemic has changed and highlights the dilemmas public health agencies face today in terms of prevention strategies and chronic illness linked to low levels of toxic exposure. Including content about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, Lead Wars chronicles the obstacles faced by public health workers in the conservative, pro-business, anti-regulatory climate that took off in the Reagan years and that stymied efforts to eliminate lead from the environments and the bodies of American children.

 

Water and Los Angeles: A Tale of Three Rivers, 1900-1941 by William Deverell and Tom Sitton

Los Angeles rose to significance in the first half of the twentieth century by way of its complex relationship to three rivers: the Los Angeles, the Owens, and the Colorado. The remarkable urban and suburban trajectory of southern California since then cannot be fully understood without reference to the ways in which each of these three river systems came to be connected to the future of the metropolitan region.

A free ebook version of this title is available through Luminos, University of California Press’s Open Access publishing program for monographs.

 

Blood and Water: The Indus River Basin in Modern History by David Gilmartin

The Indus basin was once an arid pastoral watershed, but by the second half of the twentieth century, it had become one of the world’s most heavily irrigated and populated river basins. Launched under British colonial rule in the nineteenth century, this irrigation project spurred political, social, and environmental transformations that continued after the 1947 creation of the new states of India and Pakistan. In this first large-scale environmental history of the region, David Gilmartin focuses on the changes that occurred in the basin as a result of the implementation of the world’s largest modern integrated irrigation system.

 

Dead Pool: Lake Powell, Global Warming, and the Future of Water in the West by James Lawrence Powell

Where will the water come from to sustain the great desert cities of Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Phoenix? In a provocative exploration of the past, present, and future of water in the West, James Lawrence Powell begins at Lake Powell, the vast reservoir that has become an emblem of this story. Writing for a wide audience, Powell shows us exactly why an urgent threat during the first half of the twenty-first century will come not from the rising of the seas but from the falling of the reservoirs.

 


The EPA and the Future of Flint, Michigan

ScottPruitt-EPANominee

On February 1st, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will vote on sending current Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s (R) nomination to the full Senate. During his hearing two weeks ago for the position of administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Pruitt acknowledged his lack of familiarity with the scientific research on lead poisoning. But it should be noted that the debate still continues amongst scientists on how much is too much, or too little, to consider harmful.

Because of President Donald Trump’s recent media blackout and freeze on EPA grants, the people of Michigan are now asking if Flint will be impacted in the wake of their lead crisis.

Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner, authors of Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and the Fate of America’s Children, have prominently discussed their concerns about lead. Markowtiz and Rosner write about what lead has meant to Flint and other communities like it:

Lead Wars[L]ead poisoning as it has been commonly portrayed does not affect all of us in society evenly but rather is particularly damaging to those who live in the older, rundown, more dilapidated neighborhoods of our fading urban centers, where lead paint is most likely to be exposed. As such, those who make the decisions about what our priorities are as a society and what risks we are willing to take with our children’s lives often feel immune from the consequences of lead. … We can believe that lead poisoning—along with other environmental childhood threats such as asthma linked to mold and cockroaches, for example—will at some future date be all but eradicated as the rebuilding of our urban infrastructure, the gentrification of older neighborhoods, and the movement of peoples out of dilapidated structures eliminates the primary source of lead poisoning: the nation’s leaded housing stock.

But the authors note that we must continue to research lead’s full impact, especially children:

But self-satisfied complacency born of the successes of the past thirty years must be tempered by the growing body of research that shows lead to be a multiheaded hydra whose dangers are constantly being revealed in new forms. Each time we believe we have one lead danger under control, we are forced to confront another set of problems that challenge our science, our epidemiology, our morality, and our sense of social justice. …

Children at risk, 1960s.
Children at risk, 1960s.

Our common-sense assumptions, long held by toxicologists as well as the general public, that the higher the level of a poison, the more damage it causes, may not always be true. New research shows that the most serious damage from lead occurs at some of the lowest levels of exposure, often in utero or in the first years of life, when the neurological structures of the brain are forming. For example, compared to children with virtually no evidence of lead in their blood, the greatest effect of lead on IQ occurs in children with blood lead levels below 5 µg/dl. As blood lead levels climb above 5 µg/dl, IQ continues to decline but at a much slower rate. Similarly, endocrine disruptors such as bisphenol A have their greatest impact on physiological structures at the lowest levels of bioaccumulation, if exposure occurs at critical moments in fetal development. This raises troubling issues for toxicology and for society, because these data imply that other toxins may also defy the traditional dogma that the “dose makes the poison” and that lowering exposures lowers the risk. Unlike toxins whose acute effects disappear with the elimination of the poison, lead’s effect on the child’s brain is immediate and often permanent.

What are your thoughts on how the EPA, along with the Center for Disease Control and other agencies, should move forward with future research on lead?

And to read Lead Wars and save 40%, use code 16W6968 at checkout on our site.