In New York State Some People Who Drink Water Are More Equal Than Others

In upstate New York, where I am living, there is a class of citizens protected from chemicals and harmful substances in drinking water, and then there are the vast majority of people like me, my family, and friends, who are experimental subjects being tested to see if known carcinogens like benzene will do anything harmful to us.

A few years ago, we would have called that an unethical, if not illegal, experiment worthy of the Nazi doctors and the Tuskegee syphilis experiments. Now we call it governmental policy. The just-released Executive Summary of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation report on gas drilling says that of over one million people who drink ground water every day, about a third will have their sources of water protected. But a shocking two-thirds, or 840,000 men, women, and children, will have no protections at all.

Basically the DEC is protecting those lucky people who live in cities and letting the rural population of New York State consume water that could be contaminated with a mix of chemicals so lethal that they are banned for human consumption.

The report acknowledges openly that hydrofracking is risky business, saying "the Department recommends... that site disturbance relating to HVHF operations should not be permitted" in the rivers and aquifers that feed cities like New York and Syracuse, as well as smaller towns like Binghamton, Cortland, Elmira, and Corning, among others. But I guess "site disturbance" is OK if you live on a farm or in a small town.

The executive summary goes on to say that it will observe for two years to see what the effects of unprotected water are on the 840,000. So this will be, in effect, an experiment without informed consent on the majority of ground-water drinkers in New York State.

We know that when politicians want to wax eloquent about our country they talk nostalgically and patriotically about the small towns, the villages, the farms, that make us uniquely America. But rather than value its rural heritage, this DEC report says in so many words, paraphrasing the famous Daily News headline: "New York State to rural America: Drop Dead!"

Fortunately, the constitution of New York State may provide a way out. It specifies, "no person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws of this state or any subdivision thereof." If ever there was an infringement of equal protection, this division of New York State water-drinkers into those protected and those not cries out for legal redress.

You know you are living in strange times now. The age-old wisdom about the dangers of the cities and the purity of nature has been reversed. So if you are traveling through our beautiful mountains or visiting our local farms, make sure you bring along with you a thermos or two of city water. Drinking from these clear mountain springs, wells, and rivers could be hazardous to your health.