Healthy Living Conditions as a Human Rights Issue

Often we don’t think about how policy outside of healthcare can have major impacts on our health. This becomes a question of rights to an environment in which one can live a healthy lifestyle, rather than the rights to healthcare access. We don’t always realize how environmental factors that are often determined through politics and policy can either fail to address or create the health issues that then need to be addressed through healthcare. These policies have a broad scope from FDA approval of chemicals and ingredients used in medicines and food, to amounts of fumes and pollutants allowed, to school lunches, and much, much more. However, for the moment I would like to focus on the policies surrounding drinking water quality, especially in the New York region.

In recent years the new technology of horizontal hydraulic fracturing to obtain natural gas has posed a new threat to the ensurance of safe drinking water. This issue is particularly relevant to upstate New York and New York City alike, because the Marcellus Shale that is full of natural gases lies near all the upstate water reservoirs that provide billions of gallons of water to NYC residents each day. The evidence is not entirely conclusive yet, but many scientists feel that the methods used during hydraulic fracturing and the millions of gallons of toxic wastewater produced, pose great threats to the safety of drinking water sources in the surrounding areas.This has been escalated by the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing not being disclosed until just recently due to the trade secret rights that hydrofracking companies were entitled to and furthermore by these companies being exempt from the Clean Drinking Water Act.

There have been cases of people being able to light their tap water on fire and some tests have found high levels of radium in water sources near hydrofracking sites. When radium enters the body it may cause cancer.

In the 18th and early part of the 19th century drinking water was still privatized in New York City and the conditions were horrible leading to many public health issues such as yellow fever and cholera. Since then the government has invested much money into creating the three upstate aqueducts and ensuring the safety and quality of our drinking water. So, why might governments not protect our water now? This question is even more confusing when most evidence shows that this type of drilling only has short term economic benefits for local communities and government and that it is these large companies that are really benefiting.

We so frequently discuss inequalities and rights regarding access to healthcare and medicine but maybe we should focus more on the roots of the issue and the rights to a healthy environment.

A video that discusses this issue further:

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