Water Politics (1986)

Fighting corporations which threaten our water.

Excerpt from our the feature story:

What would you do if you woke up one morning to the news that the water coming into your house was contaminated by radioactive polonium?

Like most of us, C. B. Hiscock of Fort Lonesome, Florida, didn't give much thought to the purity of his drinking water — until this February when researchers from Florida State University found radioactive levels in his well 23 times the state standard. Now Hiscock and his family are buying jugs of water at the local Publix grocery store.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, the researchers "are perplexed as to how extensive and how harmful polonium exposure might be — and how to get rid of it." One scientist says the Florida Aquifer, underground source for most of the state's water, is not in danger because polonium — a "daughter" of unstable uranium atoms found naturally in phosphate ore — loses half its strength every 138 days and "should dissipate" before reaching consumers' taps. Others contend they can't tell how bad the problem is until their study of wells in the phosphaterich, west-central part of Florida is completed near the end of 1986.

Neither the EPA nor the state plans any action until the survey is finished, even though everyone knows the contamination has been worsened by years of phosphate companies' pumping the waste water from their mines into deep sink holes or "recharge wells" that replenish the ground water supply. Regulators are not anxious to throw another hurdle before the powerful phosphate industry which employs 12,500 Floridians and provides 80 percent of the nation's phosphate needs. After all, the industry already suffers from a declining fertilizer market, increasing foreign competition, and costly environmental regulations.

So while the scientists conduct their study and the regulators wait for the results, Hiscock and his neighbors have abandoned their wells and hope the bottled water they're buying is safe. What would you do if you were in his shoes?


  • 15 WATER POLITICS Fighting corporations which threaten our water
  • 17 TESTING THE WATERS How worried city water drinkers decided to check the purity themselves
  • 21 "WATER - YOU CAN DRINK IT WITH A FORK!" Appalachian coal mining gums up mountain water, by John Gaventa and Linda Selfridge with an introduction by Chris Mayfield
  • 27 THE PEAT WARS Fishers and environmentalists stopped a peat strip-mining scheme that would have damaged shellfish beds, by Robin Epstein
  • 39 EAST TEXAS BLACK LIFE, photography by Fred Baldwin and Wendy Watriss
  • 43 A POEM FOR LANGSTON HUGHES, by Lenard D. Moore
  • 44 "WE'RE BECOMING THE MAYORS" Harvey Gantt led a 1960 lunch counter sit-in and now he's mayor of Charlotte, an interview by Lynn Haessly
  • 52 BACK ROAD INTO TOWN, fiction by Eddie Harris


  • READERS CORNER Watching a garden grow from death row, by M. E. Marrs
  • SOUTHERN NEWS ROUNDUP Louisiana refugee detention center, Georgia pardons Leo Frank, old segregationists fade away, and more
  • 10 VOICES OF OUR NEIGHBORS Federal government forces Arizona Navajo to leave homelands
  • 12 FACING SOUTH Farm to Factory: "I got Sunday off," by Ilene Cornwell
  • 14 RESOURCES The brothers from other planets, peaceful world adventures, and more
  • 56 REVIEWS Uppity women, traditional music of the future
  • 64 VOICES OF THE PAST Dixie students take their stand


Since 1973 Southern Exposure has gained critical praise for its thorough investigations, unsentimental portraits of Southern life, and public interest reporting.