This post is written by Aly Shaw, Environmental Justice Organizer at the Pittsburgh United Our Water Campaign.
The health effects of lead exposure in water are devastating: from hair loss to cardiovascular issues to damaging a child’s central nervous system. When water is contaminated with lead, people must resort to bottled water for daily tasks, like boiling pasta, brushing teeth, and even bathing.
Residents in the cities of Flint, Michigan and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania were left exposed to lead in tap water. But neither of these crises were inevitable. In fact, they share something in common: Veolia, the world’s largest water privatization corporation.
Why Veolia earns your vote
The corporation promises to improve infrastructure and efficiency, but its goals are entirely profit-driven. Veolia’s privatization contracts have been followed by workforce layoffs, higher water rates, and corner cutting that jeopardizes public health and safety. And it’s often people of color and low-income communities that wind up bearing the brunt of the private water industry’s abuses.
Mismanagement in Pittsburgh
Veolia was hired to manage Pittsburgh’s water system based on its claims to help deliver safe drinking water and save the struggling utility money. Instead, Veolia prioritized cost-cutting measures to boost its bottom line and walked away with over $11 million.
Under Veolia’s management, the staff of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority’s (PWSA) laboratory was cut in half. Additionally, the corrosion control chemical used to prevent lead contamination was switched to a cheaper alternative without the required approval, violating state regulations. A new, faulty billing system that sent residents inaccurate and extremely high bills was also implemented during Veolia’s time in Pittsburgh.
Veolia wreaked havoc on a financially struggling water system. What followed was a health crisis that endangered residents throughout the city.
Failures in Flint
The roots of the Flint crisis lie in Michigan’s emergency manager law; Veolia’s abuses allegedly exacerbated the crisis. This undemocratic law, which allows the government to appoint an unelected official to run a city like a corporation, has been used by Governor Rick Snyder’s administration to systematically target majority-Black cities like Flint. In 2014, while Flint was under emergency management, its water source was switched to the heavily polluted Flint River, a move that sacrificed people’s water quality in the name of saving some money.
In February of 2015, the emergency manager brought in Veolia to study water quality. Not only did Veolia declare the water was safe, but the corporation also dismissed residents’ medical concerns, claiming, “Some people may be sensitive to any water.” Veolia failed to sound the alarm of the water’s contamination and even recommended a chemical change that the state alleges made the crisis worsen.
Veolia pocketed $40,000 from this contract. Just nine months later, a state of emergency was declared in Flint, with lead levels far above the EPA’s action limit. More than four years after the lead crisis began, the people of Flint have not seen justice. Many are still forced to rely on bottled water due to their contaminated water supply.
Vote for Veolia to help shine a light on its abuses in Flint and Pittsburgh
Thanks to people like you taking action alongside our water justice allies across the country like Flint Rising and the Our Water Campaign, Veolia is on notice.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette filed a lawsuit against Veolia in 2016 with charges of professional negligence and fraud. And residents of Pittsburgh are calling on Pennsylvania’s Attorney General Josh Shapiro to investigate Veolia’s role in the lead crisis.
Additionally, thanks to tireless organizing to challenge Veolia, the water giant was forced to abandon its flagship scheme for pursuing water privatization in the U.S. This is a big victory for keeping water systems in public hands, but the journey is far from over.
Unchecked, Veolia profits from and deepens our global water crisis.
Together, we can preserve democracy and advance water justice for all by holding Veolia accountable for its abuses of the human right to water. Speak truth to power by casting your vote in the Corporate Hall of Shame today.