IS OUR WATER SAFE?

Nikki Kanakamedala, first year writing UNC Asheville student

The Burton Street Community Peace Garden emerged from tragedy and provides a welcomed escape from the harsh realities that encompass this particular community of West Asheville in North Carolina. The hard-working community of African Americans was once infested with drugs, weapons, and every other destructive element that one could think of. In a few years, DeWayne Barton and his volunteers were able to rebuild this community. This garden represents the strength of the community and demonstrates the various hardships that they have gone through to successfully build artwork from trash, and explain what they have been through in this way. One of the art pieces in the peace garden focuses on the central question of “is the water safe?” There are many communities in the United States that have difficulties obtaining clean drinking water. The reasons for these water crises as well as possible solutions will be discussed further in this paper.


Description of Artwork/Art Sculpture

As you enter the Burton Street Community Peace Garden, you stumble upon a particularly art sculpture on the right-hand side of the entrance. It takes up a large portion of the area of the garden and is very easy to spot given its size. It can also be identified by the larger and smaller deconstructed water bottles that are placed on top of what looks like a waterslide. The waterslide also has a nonfunctional metal component that looks like a grill, but almost certainly isn’t a grill. There are many more plastic water bottles of different sizes placed on top of the metal component. Along the waterslide, you can observe bricks and plastic water bottles of various sizes. Some of these plastic water bottles are encompassed in metal barbed wires. I also noticed some road signs along the waterslide. One of the components that struck me most about this sculpture is a poster of a four-month-old fetus in a womb. This resonated with me as the creator of this sculpture obviously wanted the audience to make a connection about the importance of clean drinking water and the importance of the availability of water during pregnancy, as well as the impact of water on a fetus. You can also observe a bright yellow tray on wheels filled with empty prescription boxes which signify the growing rates of water infestation by medications, especially those that are highly addictive. Doctors often prescribe pain medications to patients and within a short period of time, individuals are hooked on these medications that limit their ability to earn a living and support their families. It should also be noted that water sports are very popular, and large bodies of water are a common area where prescribe drugs are dumped. Given that our children take part in water sports and other extracurricular activities, they are vulnerable to this epidemic and could be ingesting a combination of prescription drugs that may be present in the bodies of water that they are playing in.


The thought of making art out of garbage reflects the personality of the individuals living in the African American community in West Asheville. They are capable of making the best out of any situation. They decided that one way of overcoming their adversities would be by utilizing objects which continue to exist around them and repurposing these objects and elements to portray and depict a message that can be brought to focus. By using different elements that are available to them, DeWayne and his volunteers are able to create an intimate relationship with their work, which further establishes a strong connection to the wider social theme that the sculpture itself represents.

National Overview

Our bodies are composed of 70% of water. It is for this reason that a safe, reliable, and easily accessible water supply is vital for good health. This lends a unique perspective as it considers a view point of those individuals living in a developing country where a safe, drinking water supply does not usually come easily. Hunter and McDonald make an important distinction as their research is focused on developing countries. These authors heavily stress the health risks that are associated with inadequate water consumption as well as the consumption of unsafe (Hunter et al., 2010). These can include many gastrointestinal illnesses, such as gastroenteritis, lead poisoning, dysentery, and even death in extreme cases. The impact of such illnesses causes a less productive work force in that particular community as their citizens are unable to work and function as they normally would. A healthy workforce in a healthy population would lead to an increase in a country’s economic returns (Hunter et al., 2010). They introduce a unique perspective as they consider a view point of those individuals living in a developing country where a safe, drinking water supply does not usually come easily. It is important to place value in times of crisis, such as when the water crisis in Flint, Michigan had occurred, to understand that there are many developing countries that face this struggle on a daily basis.

It is important when talking about water crises to evaluate one of the most publicized events in America. The water crisis in Flint, Michigan began in 2014 and the government took a substantial amount of time to react to this crisis. Masten provides an in-depth analysis as to what caused this crisis to occur and how exactly it occurred. They pursued these questions by obtaining relevant documentation, such as monthly operating reports (MORs), from water treatment facilities in the area, as well as communication with water plant operators. Masten uses statistical data and analysis thoroughly to explain and illustrate the extent to which the ball was dropped. The excessive media coverage never brought forth the reasons why this crisis occurred. Masten and her colleagues were able to conclusively explain the many reasons why the Flint water crisis occurred and how exactly it occurred. They were able to provide an objective analysis of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan and covered all the bases with regards to what happened and why this occurred (Masten et al., 2016).


In rural America, there is major problem that is seemingly going unnoticed as people are unable to gain access to safe drinking water, that is, if they even have access to any water at all. This is not just a problem that occurred in Flint, Michigan; there are many other small rural areas in America where there are many individuals who are having to drink contaminated water. In fact, in Martin county, Kentucky, it was just reported that the water that comes out of their taps smells like diesel (Kounang, 2018). These individuals are being ignored by their public officials and the problem is not being solved. It is so severe that in the dead of winter, they are having to walk long distances to obtain clean drinking water for themselves and their families (Kounang, 2018). It is stated that as our water infrastructure system continues to age, it is becoming very difficult to keep our water clean (Kounang, 2018). In fact, America’s drinking water infrastructure system got a grade D, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers (Kounang, 2018). Jones and Atkin state that these incidents may even be more dangerous than the one that occurred in Flint (Jones & Atkin, 2018).  Jones and Atkin also provide a political viewpoint from the side of the citizens who are living in these conditions and are feeling helpless by their public officials. There are many rural areas in America, including those in the Texas border, where millions of Americans are consuming contaminated water. This is obviously extremely dangerous and the health risks associated with this crisis can be critical to any individual’s health, as previously stated, and these are the individuals that usually cannot afford to pay the associated healthcare costs. It is important to note that these rural areas consist mostly of Caucasian individuals, many of whom live in poverty (Kounang, 2018). There is some hope for the residents of Martin County as there were some federal grants that were issued to go towards the water system. While this is a start, much more needs to be done as these grants only cover a fraction of the cost needed to fix the water infrastructure system in the county (Kounang, 2018).


The Deepwater Horizon spill released almost 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over an 87-day period in 2010. Susskind and her colleagues analyzed the effects that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill had on the environment, and on the travel industry. The oil spill caused significant damage to the environmental quality of the Gulf Coast, and the coast’s tourist volume (Susskind et al., 2015). This oil spill caused a major disruption of tourism to the white sand beaches of Florida which were heavily affected by the oil spill. Since that time, the company responsible for the damage caused has been working to repair the coast (Susskind et al., 2015). The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was a highly publicized event that occurred nearly a decade ago. The effects of that oil spill are still being felt today as the company responsible for that spill is still working to renew that area of Florida.


Local Overview

There was a recent kerosene spill in the French Broad River in Asheville, NC that resulted in violation notices. Given that an oil source had infected a body of water, there are associated health risks that have prompted health officials in the area to issue a warning to say out of the French Broad River (Chavez, 2018). There was a heavy smell that followed along the river associated with the oil spill (Chavez, 2018). It was estimated at the time that about four thousand gallons of oil had spilled into the French Broad River (Chavez, 2018). The impact of this kerosene spill is unknown at this time because of how recent it is; however, it is sure to cause some disruption in Asheville’s tourism industry with the many warnings that have been issued.


Conclusion

Clean drinking water is vital for survival and for every bodily function and cannot be taken for granted. There are many rural communities in the United States that are currently unable to obtain uncontaminated drinking water. As a developed country, we must find better ways to combat this crisis, such as adding fluoride to water to kill the contaminants and bacteria. The Burton Street Community Peace Gardens has many art pieces that circumscribe many social themes. Given its history, its significance is one that cannot be fully understood unless experienced first-hand. DeWayne Barton and his volunteers were able to set aside their struggles and combine their strengths to bring a strong voice of determination, persistence and hope for a better future. If their community was able to achieve this through the peace gardens, what could the rest of America achieve if we are able to band together?

References


Chavez, K. (2018, February 07). French Broad River fuel spill poses public health danger. Asheville Citizen Times. Retrieved March 30, 2018, from https://www.citizen-times.com/story/news/local/2018/02/06/health-officials-after-fuel-spill-stay-out-french-broad-river/312205002/


Hunter P. R., MacDonald A. M., & Carter R. C. (2010). Water Supply and Health. PLoS Med 7(11): e1000361. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000361


Jones, S., & Atkin, E. (2018, February 12). Rural America’s Drinking-Water Crisis. The New Republic. Retrieved from https://newrepublic.com/article/147011/rural-americas-drinking-water-crisis


Kounang, N. (2018, March 30). The Kentucky county where water smells like diesel. CNN. Retrieved April 01, 2018, from https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/30/health/kentucky-water-crisis/index.html


Masten, S. J., Davies, S. H., & Mcelmurry, S. P. (2016). Flint Water Crisis: What Happened and Why? Journal - American Water Works Association, 108(12), 22–34. http://doi.org/10.5942/jawwa.2016.108.0195


Susskind, A., Bonn, M., & Lawrence, B. (2015). How the Deepwater Horizon oil spill damaged the environment, the travel industry, and corporate reputations. Cornell Hospitality Report, 15(14), 3-13. https://scholarship.sha.cornell.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1209&context=chrpubs