Catherine Coleman Flowers is the rural development manager for the Equal Justice Initiative and an environmental health researcher working to bring basic sanitation to rural communities — a campaign she details in Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret. In this excerpt, which has been lightly edited for clarity, the Grist 50 Fixer and MacArthur Fellow recounts two key moments that focused worldwide attention on the unsanitary conditions many Americans live in.
I was in D.C. on business in December 2016 when I received a call from Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey. His staff had let me know to expect it, but when I heard him on the other end of the phone, I was still a little stunned. He told me he wanted to be “the environmental justice senator.” It was my first and only time hearing that from a senator. He asked about the parasite study (a study that found hookworm rampant in the American South due to poverty and poor sanitation) and how the idea to do it had come about. I told him the whole story, starting with the mosquito bites. He was interested in finding a way to address neglected diseases of poverty, and he told me he wanted to come to Lowndes Co... Read more