19844370-smallThe Flint water crisis brings to light major political and bureaucratic failures and underscores what happens when we fail to make adequate investments in our crumbling infrastructure.

Others ask if this tragedy could happen in their community; if their water is safe to drink.

We have heard these concerns in Jackson.

Fortunately, the city council continues to improve its policies and processes to ensure public health and safety.

Despite water quality in Jackson being far below levels requiring action by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, we’ve doubled the quantity of tests, tripled their frequency, and hired an independent contractor to confirm results for added safety and accountability.

Additionally, we’ve improved lead dust mitigation during demolitions by expanding community outreach, doubling watering efforts and improving post-demolition cleanup.

These are important steps to ensure public safety and trust surrounding lead poisoning, but more must be done. A recent Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Report from the Department of Health and Human Services shows Jackson has the second highest lead poisoning rate for children in Michigan (10.7%).

Further, the 49203 zip code ranked in the top 30 zip codes for high blood lead levels across all measured categories.

The city council already has announced public meetings to discuss lead poisoning via exposure to lead paint – common in homes built prior to 1978. While the city currently complies with EPA and DEQ standards, many of those standards do not suffice.

Successful cities will be the ones whose leaders recognize inadequacies in state and federal policy and explore innovative, effective ways to protect their most vulnerable populations and enhance the quality of air, water, land, and public health.

Jackson can lead in that effort. In the coming weeks, I’ll be proposing an ordinance to city council creating an environmental commission to pilot that ambition. As an advisory board, the commission can advocate solutions on some of our biggest challenges to:

  • Ensure public health and safety by measuring environmental risks, increasing public awareness, and improving the quality of the air we breathe and water we drink.
  • Advance environmental stewardship by reducing pollution streams, enhancing solid waste and recycling systems, and innovating stormwater management to conserve our natural assets.
  • Nurture a culture of sustainability by modernizing transportation systems and assets, reducing energy costs through green technologies, and promoting eco-friendly development and infrastructure.

Investments in environmentally responsible policy have already shown advantages beyond protecting the health and safety of residents. We converted downtown lighting to metered LED, and installed new lighting on the first floor of city hall that improved energy efficiency, cut kilowatt-hours almost in half, and saved more than $1,000 a year.

As the Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree City USA, we’ve increased tree planting to reduce runoff, lessen energy costs, and further beautify our community.

With an environmental commission, further innovative steps can be taken to build a more financially sustainable, environmentally conscious, safe and healthy community.

City council has the opportunity to work toward that end. People are looking for solutions, and what we do now matters.

— Derek Dobies is the vice mayor and city councilman for Jackson’s 6th Ward. 

Guest Column: Jackson can lead Michigan in protection of environment, public health

By Derek Dobies