“We’re Downstream.” Documenatary Investigates Water Contamination

       Sometimes we enjoy a sunset over a  lake. Other times, we might just want a drink of

water.  Regardless, water is an essential resource and yet it is one seriously under

threat.  What Lies Upstream is a documentary by Cullen Hoback about the contamination

of the nation’s water.  It opens with a chemical spill on the Elk River in West Virgina and

goes on to investigate the lead contamination in Flint, Michigan.  Through interviews

with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, health officials, and an

EPA  whistleblower, the film reveals how science is often covered up and existing

regulations frequently not enforced.

The film is critical of several agencies dealing with the environmental and human

health.  It shows them to be heavily politicized as well as strongly influenced by

lobbyists.  This is illustrated by a scene in which several lobbying groups are present

while  bill dealing with water quality is being written.  As a result, much of the public

trust has been compromised and Hoback refers to the bureaucracy as a “broken


Nevertheless, he also says it is one that can be “rebuilt.”  While the film focuses

on two major contaminations, a revelation towards the end shows that the spills which

garner national attention are far from the only concern.

The film is effective as an expose on the lack of accountability on the part  of both

private companies and government agencies.  It also shows the the exent to which one of

our most fundamental  resources is being threatened and states that we are all

“downstrem from something.”


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