The future Miss Houston Rodeo 2013 had no idea her body was becoming 'toxic soup'...

Jackie Medcalf's family moved to a town right on the San Jacinto River when she was a teenager. They just wanted to experience the slow pace of river life near Houston, Texas.

Instead, they got a host of health scares.

Medcalf's mother was the first to notice something was wrong. The family's cats started developing tumors, while their chickens stopped laying eggs and their feathers fell off. Every couple months, family members would come down with flu-like symptoms.

Jackie developed gastrointestinal issues and chronic joint pain. She gave up plans to become a competitive hurdler in college... and moved to San Diego to pursue modeling.

But her family kept getting sick – and so did Jackie. She moved back home in 2008, just three years after graduating high school.

By 2011, Jackie's symptoms had progressed to near-daily seizures, skin lesions, and weight loss. She weighed just 90 pounds and intermittently lost the use of her hands.

Doctors had no idea what was wrong. And neither did Jackie... until she decided to test her family's well water.

Jackie was using the money she'd made from modeling to study environmental geology at the University of Houston – Clear Lake...

One of her classes required her to do a real-world case study. She ended up getting some unexpected answers to her medical problems...

When the family bought the property in 2003, the well water was described as "pristine." Jackie expected it to be far superior to the water in Houston, which had recently been flagged for high levels of radiation.

Instead, it was riddled with heavy metals... at such a high concentration that you could actually see metal particles floating in the samples.

Her professor urged her to get tested for exposure. Sure enough, Jackie's blood came back positive for 19 of 21 heavy metals.

Jackie soon learned that her family home was surrounded by four 'Superfund' sites...

These are areas of contamination that nobody would take responsibility for.

Through the Superfund designation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") directs money for cleanup efforts. Only, one of the four locations around the Medcalf house hadn't been remediated properly.

None of the companies responsible for dumping the toxic waste had come up with a suitable plan. According to Jackie, the EPA was far too lax with them.

Jackie's family changed their water source and eventually moved... but not before her stepfather was diagnosed with cancer, likely from exposure to the contaminated water. They lost $350,000 on their former dream home.

By 2013, Jackie was back to modeling. She won the title of Miss Houston Rodeo that year. All the while, she was determined to advocate for her fellow Texans...

When she saw how little information the Houston community had about its drinking water, Jackie launched the Texas Health and Environment Alliance ("THEA") in 2015.

Advocacy groups like THEA are pushing for community education and more accountability – particularly for America's drinking water.

You see, Houston is far from alone with its water issues...

Even communities that aren't at risk of toxic-waste contamination are dealing with old, underdeveloped water systems.

Metal pipes have useful lives ranging between 40 to 70 years. PVC plastic pipes, which are the most widely used, only last between 24 and 50 years.

Back in 1970, the average age of U.S. water pipes was 25 years old. That's right about when we should have started replacing a large number of them.

Instead, we kept letting our water infrastructure age without proper replacement. The average pipe in the U.S. reached 45 years old by 2020.

We're pushing the boundaries of our water infrastructure's usefulness. The U.S. already has to contend with 300,000 water-main breaks each year. And at the current rate of investment, it will get even worse.

In 2019, the American Society of Civil Engineers ("ASCE") estimated there was an $81 billion per year investment gap in water infrastructure. ASCE thinks it could grow to a staggering $434 billion gap by 2029.

Over the next 20 years, we'll need to spend an estimated $2.2 trillion to upgrade and replace our water infrastructure...

The government is already taking steps to remedy the situation.

In April, the EPA announced the strictest forever-chemical standards to date. They're intended to protect approximately 100 million U.S. residents from dangerous chemicals like the ones that hurt the Medcalf family.

Congress has allocated billions of dollars toward water-infrastructure upgrades via the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Under this act, $55 billion will go toward expanding access to clean drinking water.

Another $50 billion is for improving the durability and efficiency of water systems.

And more than $125 billion will be spent on repairing roads, bridges, and airports... which need improvements to their drainage and fire protection systems.

Years of neglect have created a fantastic opportunity for businesses that handle water infrastructure. Governments and corporations have finally committed to upgrading and building new water systems.

As new projects break ground, this industry is sure to take off.


Joel Litman
July 5, 2024