In this Jan. 25, 2016, photo, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign event at the Knoxville School District Administration Office in Knoxville, Iowa. Battling across Iowa ahead of the first-in-the-country vote on Feb. 1, Clinton and Bernie Sanders are dueling on fertile populist ground: resentment against Wall Street, bailed-out big banks and a financial system seen as rigged. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer) (AP)

Hillary Clinton jumps on America's next Flint: Campaign looks to put the spotlight on Jackson, Mississippi, as lead levels spike

Like with Flint water crisis, Clinton beats Sanders to the punch addressing water contamination in low-income area


Sophia Tesfaye
February 3, 2016 12:09AM (UTC)

"Every single American should be outraged" by the Flint water crisis Hillary Clinton said during a recent Democratic presidential debate before reminding viewers that she was the first candidate to mention the massive public health crisis on the campaign trail. With the race between her and rival Bernie Sanders only intensifying as the campaigns move beyond Iowa, Clinton is again the first to speak out about an American city exposed to lead.

Last Thursday, the Mississippi Department of Health released a report showing that it found concerning levels of lead in the water of 22 percent of Jackson homes tested. A random water sample test taken last summer showed that of 58 homes tested, 13 had lead above the actionable level of 0.015. City officials say they didn't receive the test results until last month.

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Although state officials have said that “the level of concern – or action level – is not indicative of a threat to human health,” city officials in Jackson have commissioned re-sample test kits to the contaminated homes and an additional 100 test kits throughout the city. Results are expected to be returned in two weeks. City officials have indicated that the elevated levels of lead in the water are due to old pipes within the homes.

Fresh off the narrowest of victories over Sanders in the Iowa caucuses, Clinton released a statement addressing the lead levels in Jackson on Tuesday. Citing the Flint water crisis, Clinton called on increased spending on dated infrastructure:

I was concerned to hear that tests of drinking water in Jackson, Mississippi, revealed elevated levels of lead in some homes. I’m heartened that Jackson city officials are taking the right steps to fix the problem, including repeated testing and openness with the results, so families can stay informed. As the emergency in Flint, Michigan, has made clear, cities and states must treat these situations with the utmost seriousness, and do everything in their power to ensure that families – especially children – have access to safe, clean drinking water.  And we as a nation must make urgent investments to modernize our utilities and infrastructure, to keep families and communities safe and healthy.

Although the lead contamination appears to be sourced to the homes in Jackson and not the city as in Flint, Clinton's involvement in this local issue is an attempt to contrast herself as the candidate willing to address the issues concerning low-income communities of color. Clinton sent aides to Michigan to meet with Flint mayor Karen Weaver last month and her campaign has called for a Democratic debate to be held in the city to "keep focus on the water crisis":

"If the kids in a rich suburb of Detroit had been drinking contaminated water and being bathed in it, there would have been action," Clinton asserted at last month's debate. As Clinton trails Sanders by upwards of 20 points according to some polls of New Hampshire, Clinton's campaign appears aimed to hold up a firewall comprised of non-white voters in Nevada, South Carolina and beyond. Mississippi holds its Democratic presidential primary on March 8.

"Flint isn’t alone. There are a lot more Flints out there — overwhelmingly low-income communities of color where pollution, toxic chemicals and staggering neglect adds to families’ burdens," Clinton wrote in a recent MSNBC op-ed. Citing examples in Richmond, CA, Baltimore, MD, and Houston, TX, Clinton connected lead poisoning among low-income communities and communities of color with a history of systemic racism:

We need to face some hard truths about race and justice in America. After 250 years of slavery, 90 years of Jim Crow, and decades of “separate but equal,” our country’s struggle with racism is far from over. That’s true in our criminal justice system. In our education system. In employment, housing, and transit. And tragically, it’s true in the very air our children breathe and in the water they drink.

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Environmental justice can’t just be a slogan — it has to be a central goal. Cities are full of lead paint in low-income housing, lead embedded in the very soil from the days of leaded gasoline. Already, African-American children are twice as likely to suffer from asthma as white children — and climate change will put vulnerable populations at even greater risk

For his part, Sanders has demanded the resignation of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, saying that "the people of Flint deserve more than an apology.” The Sanders campaign has not yet officially agreed to an additional debate in Flint.

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“The Clinton campaign, after not accepting Michigan, now says they want it,” Sanders’ campaign manager Jeff Weaver said in a statement Saturday. “We are pleased to do it on March 3 before the Michigan primary provided the Clinton campaign will agree to Brooklyn, New York, on April 14. Why won’t they debate in Brooklyn? What’s the matter with Brooklyn?”


Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's Deputy Politics Editor and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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