This article was updated on April 13 to correctly reflect the timing of when water samples were taken and when Jackson officials were notified of the results.

Washington, D.C. in 2001. Columbia, S.C. in 2005. Durham and Greenville, N.C. in 2006. Sebring, Ohio last August. Flint, Mich., and Jackson this year. The list of communities making headlines for lead in the water only seems to grow. While the water woes are a conversation topic for many Mississippians, the everyday effects for those in the affected areas often get lost in the noise.

“Twenty dollars here, twenty dollars there”

Gaylyn Parker lives east of I-20 off N. Flag Chapel Road with her four children: Gabriel, 19; Caleb, 17; Winter, 7, and Aiden, 7. Parker said she felt indignant when she heard on WLBT that the City of Jackson announced high lead concentrations from a sample taken by the Mississippi Department of Health six months prior. She says she has gotten used to problems since moving to Jackson in 2013 from Georgia:

Gaylyn Parker, left, and Gabriel Parker
Gaylyn Parker, left, and Gabriel Parker Credit: Mississippi Today

“After a while, you just learn to deal with the boil water notices, but then they tell, ‘Yeah we knew about it, but we have things that we are implementing.’ What do you mean? Why am I having to buy water or buy a filter? What are you doing?”

Parker has not used the Mississippi Department of Health’s reduced price water check, food for $15. But she has been taking measures to keep her family’s water safe.

“Your other choice is water bottles. You take a full person like me. They tell me that I need to drink at least 84 ounces of water a day. Now there are five people in this house. If we cut that down and say everyone is only going to have 50 ounces of water a day. That’s fifty times five. You are still using over a case of water a day.”

Gaylyn and her son, Gabriel Parker, in their kitchen.
Gaylyn and her son Gabriel in their kitchen. Credit: Mississippi Today

Rather than bottles of water, she bought a filter for her kitchen sink. With it and a few replacement filters, she feels that she is making an impact.

“The water even tastes better now,” she said. “It’s still twenty dollars here, twenty dollars there, but I guess that’s what we have to do.”

“If we get the water together — get the streets together, that’s going to bring in businesses and other people. People will want to come to Jackson. You’re telling people, ‘Hey guys, come down here,’ and all they are hearing from everyone else is that we’ve got lead (in the water), bad roads, and bad crime. Even when they do come down, they aren’t coming to Jackson. That money just slips by us because we can’t get something like water together.”

‘Proud that Jackson was doing something’

Stephanie Parkinson, 30, is a Teach for America transplant from Ligonier, Penn. She lives in Belhaven, right by the college with her husband and their nine-month-old. By early January, she was aware of the water crises that was flooding news headlines. In the beginning, she did not think much of it. She grew up in rural Pennsylvania. Brown water and the occasional boil water notice never really bothered her.

“I’ve been here for about eight years. Jackson’s actually a much larger town than where I come from,” she says.

It was in early spring that she remembers going to the Sam’s Club to pick up water — not for herself  —but for a function she was organizing for work. In the checkout line, the cashier told her, “Yeah, We’ve been selling out of it.” He explained that she was lucky she came in when she did because the fire and police departments had already come through and cleared out most of the store’s stock.

“People would post on different social media networks to watch out if you were pregnant or had children under six,” Parkinson said. “I was still breast feeding so eventually we decided to get a bunch of water.”

She was relieved to hear about the lead levels decreasing as Jackson began working on the problem, but she remains anxious to hear the results that will come months out.

“I was proud of Jackson for magnifying the issue,” Parkinson said. “Given what happened in Flint and thinking about how (the affected homes in Jackson) are a very small percentage, they’re still willing to address and say something. I was proud that Jackson was doing something about it.”

The experience has lowered her trust in the water system. “Even now I second guess. My son is sick currently or is getting better, but he had a stomach bug. And I was just like yeah that’s something he caught at a daycare but given boil water notices, did we miss something? Was his bottle not washed properly?”

Recommendations from the state’s health dept.

The majority of home lead tests identified no lead. The Mississippi Department of Health recommends a few simple measures:

  • Flush your tap. Before drawing in water for drinking or cooking, run cold water for one or two minutes to circulate the water that might have been sitting in the pipes.
  • No hot water. Always you cold water for drinking and cooking.
  • Clean your faucet aerator. On the tip of a faucet, there is a nozzle that holds a grate in place. Unscrew it and clean it, removing any sediment it collects over time.
  • Pregnant women and children under five are advised to drink bottled water or use a water filter that is NSF53 certified. Want to know if your filter makes the cut? Check the NSF’s website.
  • Only “Ready-to-feed” baby formula or formula prepared using filtered water or bottled water should be fed to babies.
  • If your are children between six months and five-years-old, take the Mississippi Deptartment of Health up on their lead screening. It is available from the Hinds county health deptartment on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The cost is $30 but is covered by Medicaid, MS CAN (Magnolia and United) and CHIP. For more information call 601-432-3070.
  • The Mississippi Department of Health has reduced the cost of its water sampling kits from $20 to $15 for customers who receive their water from Jackson. For a kit, call 601-576-7582.
  • For this information and more, check out the Mississippi Department of Health’s website.

“In public health we err on the side of caution,” Director of Communications for the MS Dept. of Health Liz Sharlot said. “Just do those common sense recommendations and take advantage of the testing kits.”

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