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What do we want?

REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

Two of the year’s biggest stories were about vulnerable people demanding safe drinking water.

In other words, they were about environmental justice.

There was widespread outrage as the national media woke up to the plight of Flint, Michigan, a largely black community whose water supply remains tainted by lead that leached in from old pipes. About 1,000 miles away, efforts by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to protect its sole source of drinking water garnered national attention and a halt to construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline — at least for now.

Vulnerable communities have lived with and fought against toxic dumps, big polluters, and recalcitrant government officials for at least as long as companies have produced pollution. That helps explain why communities of color struggle with higher rates of asthma and cancer. What seemed to change in 2016 is that the national media paid closer attention.

The latest example? St. Joseph, Louisiana. The state’s governor declared a public health emergency for the overwhelmingly black town after tests revealed elevated levels of lead and copper in water that runs brown out of the tap from deteriorating pipes.

With any luck, you’ll be hearing more about environmental justice stories in 2017. And with a bit more luck, attention and awareness will bring about some necessary change.