Three Things Thursday: More drinking water problems; water as a flashpoint for elections up and down the ballot; and getting involved in these last few weeks of the election. Plus, an update on Senator Peters’ race.
Dear Michigan LCV Family,
Welcome to the October 22nd edition of Three Things Thursday. I send these weekly messages to keep you up-to-date on Three Things the Michigan LCV team — and our broader Conservation Voters Movement — has accomplished and/or experienced recently in our work to protect Michigan’s incredible natural resources and the health and well-being of our children and communities.
This week I highlight the importance of volunteering with Michigan LCV, provide a snapshot of an environmental justice panel at the Council of Michigan Foundations annual conference, and illustrate how water is a key discussion point in campaigns across our state.
1. (More) toxic PFAS and lead in Michigan, this time in Traverse City and Ferndale
This week brought us more news about communities facing big challenges to their drinking water. In Traverse City, regulators began an investigation around toxic PFAS in East Bay Township. All 10 monitoring wells set up in the area over the summer have detected PFAS, some with levels that far exceed the state’s newly established drinking water standards. Approximately 20 homes and one business, all of which are currently on well water, are the immediate concern. Most of the East Bay area is connected to the municipal system. An EGLE townhall meeting is scheduled for Monday to inform residents and address growing concerns.
Michigan LCV endorsed candidate for House District 104, Dan O’Neil, immediately issued a statement, a portion of which reads:
“We should all be furious at this news. These toxic chemicals can and do ruin lives, particularly children’s lives. We need leadership in Lansing that takes clean water seriously. Polluters need to be required to clean up their spills and the state needs to provide real support to affected communities.”
Michigan LCV released the following press statement in response to the situation:
“This latest discovery is a clear example of how toxic PFAS contamination can happen anywhere, and why we need leaders who are committed to protecting our health and ensuring all Michiganders have safe, clean drinking water,” said Lisa Wozniak, executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. “These are dangerous toxins that can weaken our immune systems and make it easier to get COVID-19. The fact this has been found so close to where thousands of people in Grand Traverse County get their drinking water should serve as a wakeup call. We urge state officials to swiftly conduct an investigation on the source of this contamination, protect public health and hold those responsible accountable for the cleanup costs.”
In other contaminated water news, recent testing has revealed elevated lead levels in Ferndale. Like many other communities in Oakland County and across the state, lead has been detected in its drinking water for years — even matching the lead action level of 15 ppb in 2019 (which does not require a public notification). Remember that there is no amount of lead that is considered safe to consume. Per an ABC New story, City Manager Joe Gacioch urges the use of water filters. The City will be sending out physical notices of this health advisory to residents and will be convening a virtual City Council meeting on Monday night.
While more investigation is being done by the county and the state, citizens are being encouraged to flush their water for 5 minutes before use or consider using a filter certified for lead. Many homes in Ferndale are known to be connected to lead service lines — or are connected with service lines made of unknown materials that may contain lead. As a general rule, it is a good idea for everyone to drink water from a filter that is certified to remove lead, PFAS, and other contaminants given the multiple water crises we are facing.
Water utility companies are required to notify you if your service line contains lead. If you haven’t been notified in writing about what your service line is made of, reach out to your water utility provider. All calls and questions from concerned Ferndale residents are being directed to the City’s water department at (248) 546-2374.
Water contamination issues like this are on the rise in communities across our beautiful state, and it’s no surprise that “clean, safe water free of toxins” continues to be a number one priority for Michigan voters. #OurWaterOurVote
2. Indeed! Water is a lightning rod in races across the state
Maybe unlike any other state in the country, Michigan’s election has uniquely become a referendum on who voters trust to protect their health from widespread toxic chemicals in drinking water, lakes and rivers — a flashpoint issue that both Democrats and Republicans are campaigning on for the second electoral cycle in a row.
The potency of this water contamination issue has been on full display in Michigan’s premier congressional battles. As an example, three different TV ads have run statewide so far this year to boost U.S. Senator Gary Peters around the issue, and a separate contrast ad by Senate Majority PAC, is attacking his opponent, John James, for voting against water protections.
Two different TV ads have run as well for U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin around toxic PFAS chemicals — one that lifts her work on the issue and one tying her opponent, Paul Junge, to President Trump’s failed record on cleaning up pollution.
U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, a long-serving Republican incumbent who finds himself in an extraordinarily tough race, has consistently been talking about PFAS, which has affected his west Michigan district, and in October did a press push urging the EPA and federal government agencies to take action on PFAS contamination in schools.
Just north of Upton’s district, in Grand Rapids, there is a tight election in CD 3 (an open seat held by retiring U.S. Rep. Justin Amash) where both the Democrat and Republican candidates — Hillary Scholten and Peter Meijer — have made the PFAS issue a central part of their campaigns — given widespread water contamination in the Kent County suburbs. On Oct. 18, Scholten held a virtual town hall focused entirely on clean water, and on October 20, the Scholten campaign released the ad “Job”, which is laser focused on PFAS contamination in northern Kent County.
Even in safe congressional districts, the issue remains a centerpiece: U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee’s first TV ad of the cycle revolves around his work to clean up drinking water.
And it’s not just at the federal level. Michigan state House candidates from Livonia, Troy and West Bloomfield to Portage and Parchment are making clean water a central part of their pitch to voters — linking the issue to public health and who to trust in cleaning up contamination.
In pivotal Oakland County, a swing Detroit suburb, Democratic incumbents who in 2018 seized historic control of the county’s Board of Commissioners are running campaigns intensely focused on water.
All this comes after a Michigan election in 2018 that saw Governor Gretchen Whitmer and legislative candidates win up-and-down the ballot after running campaigns heavily focused on drinking water; protecting our Great Lakes, rivers and streams; and cleaning up toxic contamination.
The day after the election in November 2018, when asked about her number one priority upon taking office, Governor-elect Whitmer responded by saying, “Addressing our drinking water crisis”. Between January 2019 and this fall, the Whitmer administration has taken a number of steps to do just that, including the establishment of strict drinking water standards for a host of chemicals in the PFAS family. And, on October 1, Gov. Whitmer announced a sweeping initiative to invest a half-billion dollars in water infrastructure upgrades, removing lead pipes, and cleaning up contamination.
The Flint water crisis served as a wake-up call and a call-to-action for Michiganders and to people throughout that nation, putting a spotlight on the extraordinary dangers of our aging infrastructure (the toxins buried in pipes underground). But our water contamination issues do not stop with just lead in older urban areas. Toxic chemicals, like PFAS, are being found in rural, suburban and urban areas, and are linked to various cancers, weakened immune systems and other diseases. Indeed, over the past four years PFAS chemicals have been found in the drinking water of more than 1.9 million Michiganders — and largely, in mostly white, suburban or rural areas.
An October 20 MIRS article titled “Why Republicans Are Concerned About White West Michigan Suburbia” hits the nail on the head:
“The pro-life, pro-gun issues that voters tended to gravitate to in the northern Kent County suburban paradises of Rockford and Plainfield Township are being replaced by the more apolitical hazard known as PFAS. That’s the “forever chemicals” that contaminated the drinking water in hundreds of homes.”
Here’s a snapshot of how our drinking water challenges are being captured in other news sources:
- Bloomberg Government: Water Pollutants in Michigan May Sway Swing Voters in Top Races – June 9, 2020
- Great Lakes Now: Message to 2020 Candidates: Focus on water quality in Great Lakes states – September 8, 2020
Here’s our our national partners at League of Conservation Voters Victory Fund are messaging about water this year:
The LCV Victory Fund ran an extensive campaign from February through Labor Day that emphasized President Trump’s horrible record on water contamination and air pollution to over 380,000 “environmental swing voters” in Michigan identified through data modeling.
Here’s how Michigan League of Conservation Voters via our Conservation Voters of Michigan (CVM) PAC is messaging about water this year:
The CVM PAC is running a $1.6 million #OurWaterOurVote campaign focused on electing Clean Water Champions at both the state and municipal levels (namely, in Oakland County). This robust campaign is layering social media advertising, Google search and display ads, six flights of mail, live phone calls, and two waves of text messages.
Examples of program can be found at:
- House District 19 — Laurie Pohutsky
- House District 38 — Kelly Breeen
- House District 39 — Julia Pulver
- House District 45 — Barb Anness
- House District 61 — Christine Morse
- House District 104 — Dan O’Neil
(Should you be interested, our endorsed candidates for Oakland County Board of Commissioners can be found here.)
We talked about a “clean water wave” in 2018. This year we are talking about a “clean water tsunami”….which brings me to Thing #3….
3. Why Volunteer with Michigan LCV?
We are only two weeks away from the most critical election day of our lives.
As the countdown to November 3rd continues, the Michigan LCV team is working harder than ever to make sure that clean water and public health champions are elected and reelected to office. And we need your help!
Whether you are a seasoned campaign volunteer or this is your first time getting involved, your time and talent is critical. We are educating voters across the state about Michigan LCV endorsed candidates and doing the work that must be done to make sure they are all elected!
I am going to introduce you to a few members of the Michigan LCV organizing team. Please meet Shannon Abbott, Grover Easterling III, Kaitlin Flynn and Abigail Barker.
Shannon Leigh Abbott is our West Michigan Regional Organizer.
Why do you do this work? I do this work because there are so many underserved and underheard voices that are impacted throughout our communities. I want to do everything that I can to ensure that those voices are uplifted, and that I am doing everything in my power to protect this planet for all life.
What’s one piece of advice you would give a new volunteer? The best advice that I can give a new volunteer is – getting out of your comfort zone to take action on issues that you care so much about will open up a new world full of family, friends, and allies that you never knew you had. It feels amazing to take action with like-minded folks and feels even better when you are able to get others to do the same! This is it. This is the time. What we do right now – at this juncture will shape our future. We can do this. Together.
Grover Easterling III is our Southeast Michigan Field Organizer.
Why do you do this work? I do this work because people need to know their power. Through this work, I empower people by showing them how their actions can shape the circumstances they live in.
It takes more than just one good lawmaker to make sure people have access to clean drinking water and air. At Michigan LCV I’m given the opportunity to show people that their work decides whether or not we have the people we need fighting for justice in every district.
Why would you say volunteering has such a huge impact? Volunteering is taking action to determine our future. Taking the time to step into our power and make sure critical issues are prioritized can change the course of history. Make history with us.
Kaitlin Flynn is our Northern Michigan Regional Coordinator.
Why do you do this work? As a political social worker, my job is always to center the needs of the most vulnerable. For this election and beyond, that means making sure that we elect the right people, and hold them accountable to protecting our communities once they are in office. People who will ensure everyone has access to safe drinking water, who will protect our lakes and public land, and who will act on climate change to ensure the health and safety of our future generations.
Why do you think it’s so important to volunteer? Every time I talk to a voter during an election, I can feel the impact I am making. For the districts we are working in, like Grand Traverse County, every single vote makes a difference. Every conversation brings us closer to having more environmental champions representing us on every level. With 14 days left until election day, this is the time to step outside of your comfort zone to take action. This election will impact the rest of our lives, and we have the opportunity to make a difference!
If you’ve never volunteered before, do not worry! We always have a great training beforehand as a group, and have scripts you can follow so that you feel totally prepared. Come join our team!
Abigail Barker is our West Michigan Regional Organizer.
Why do you do this work? I do this work because I view access to a safe and clean environment as a human right. As a social worker, it is my duty to promote social justice by working to ensure that everyone has access to the resources they need to live healthy and sustainable lives. This work allows me to do work that helps individuals and communities to find their power, use their voice, and create systematic change.
Why do you believe volunteering makes such a huge difference? Volunteering is absolutely critical right now. There is a lot going on in our world and it can often lead us to feeling powerless. However, all of us hold the power to create change in our own lives and across our community. Our politicians work for us, and it is up to us to hold them accountable in protecting our environment. We must channel our emotions surrounding the issues into direct action. Volunteering gives you the outlet to voice your concerns, raise awareness on key environmental issues that affect all our lives, and create lasting change.
If you decide you’d like to volunteer, please fill out this form and we will make sure to reach out to schedule you for a volunteer shift…or three! What we’ve accomplished so far, and what we accomplish in these next 12 days, will have a huge impact.
Thank you for all you do!
P.S. Update on Senator Peters’ Race
Given that all eyes are on our US Senate race, we thought you’d want to see these three recent, important developments:
1) President Obama did an ad for Senator Peters, which includes mention of Senator Peters protecting the Great Lakes! Here is the link to the video on facebook.
2) The Peters campaign released an ad showcasing the ways the Senator has fought to protect the Great Lakes from oil spills and increase funding: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khrU6mCTGQI
3) LCV Victory Fund in partnership with BlackPAC launched a $900k direct mail program to re-elect Gary Peters. You can see the press release below, and the mailer here.