In the shadow of the Flint water crisis, the trouble in Franklin reveals environmental reform and regulation crosses party lines.
Franklin sits in the center of Johnson County, which voted overwhelmingly for President Trump in the 2016 election. Nonetheless, this crisis has pitted county residents against the Trump administration’s reductions in health and environmental regulations.
"When it comes to public health, we can go against party lines.” stated Franklin's Republican mayor, Steve Barnett.
I sense that a willingness to “go against party lines” is only possible when a crisis like this shows up on your front door.
But we must push for regulation before the disaster happens, not after. For children with rare cancers in Franklin or lead poisoning victims in Flint, Michigan, and in , it is obvious that prevention would have been preferable to treatment.
The crisis in Franklin is not breaking news. A link between trichloroethylene, or TCE, and high pediatric cancer rates has been known for years. A parent’s group in Franklin, , has advocated the issue since 2015. Although about TCE migrating to residential areas in Franklin, neither the Indiana Department of Environmental Management or the Environmental Protective Agency acted to stop it.
This inaction reveals negligence on all sides. Local, state and federal agencies failed to take action until the summer of 2018, when toxic vapors were detected in Franklin homes. After that three-year gap, we are now left scrambling to clean up the mess, trying to make up for lost time.
A recent sent to the EPA’s Office of Inspector General called for a federal investigation into the cause of this spread of TCE. An accompanying in the New York Times has brought this story into the national spotlight.
The increasing attention and investigation in Franklin should continue, but instead of helping after the fact, we need to invest in prevention.
After the Flint water crisis, some called for governments to publish water tests to the public, . One can imagine that, if the same standard were applied to soil testing in East Chicago or air testing in Franklin, these hazards could have been stopped well before they escalated into disaster.
Many lives could have been different, or even saved, from such policies. This is not a matter of partisanship or whether government should be small or large. Rather, in a very real sense, these regulations are about life or death. Preventative policy and an informed public are critical steps in stopping environmental health disasters before they occur.