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New hope in Flint water crisis: A long overdue resolution

5

May, 2017

M. DeHart

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Lead pipes, the middle corroded by Flint water.

Lead pipes showing corrosion by Flint River water

Source: EPA

“Individuals shouldn’t notice any difference.”

Spoken in 2014 by Steve Busch (Lansing and Jackson district supervisor in the DEQ’s office of drinking water and municipal assistance), these words heralded the separation of Flint from Detroit’s water supply. There was a ceremony, people toasted with treated water from the Flint River, and the change reached Flint’s residents two days later. No one could have imagined the trouble that would follow.

A history.

In 2001, the state of Michigan ordered a cleanup of over 100 sites along the Flint River watershed. For three decades prior, the river was plagued by toxic material stemming from industrial sites to landfills and everything in between. By the time the city switched water sources, the river’s problems were thought of to be largely assumed to be resolved.

However, the waters of Flint River have proven to be highly corrosive, leading to serious problems in a dire situation with the citizen’s tap water. In a 2015 study conducted by Virginia Tech, the water from the Flint River was found to be 19 times more corrosive than water from Detroit due to a higher chloride content. This characteristic created a domino effect, eating away at the interior coatings of old lead and galvanized steel service lines, causing toxic lead to seep into the resident’s tap water.

This resulted in an astonishing spike in lead in the city’s water system, to such a degree that several samples contained over 100ppb of the material. Contrastly, the EPA maximum allowable level for high risk homes is 15ppb- less than 1/6th of Flint’s samples.

Change is happening…finally.

After a series of news stories, viral videos, public demands for change, and even local plumbers volunteering to install filters in resident’s homes, the government is at last taking drastic action. Flint’s Mayor, Karen Weaver, announced a goal to replace 6,000 water pipes in 2017. As of March 28, the state of Michigan has agreed to spend $97 million for the project, while the EPA awarded $100 million to the replacement project just weeks earlier.

Another layer of the plan for water quality improvement is connecting Flint to Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA), a pipeline which feeds from Lake Huron. Michigan recently issued a permit to allow the integration of the KWA as Flint’s water source, and construction is slotted to be completed by June 2017.

  1. https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/epa-awards-100-million-michigan-flint-water-infrastructure-upgrades
  2. http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/03/28/521786192/judge-approves-97-million-settlement-to-replace-flints-water-lines
  3. http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2016/12/state_issues_flint_permit_to_b.html
  4. http://flintwaterstudy.org/2015/09/test-update-flint-river-water-19x-more-corrosive-than-detroit-water-for-lead-solder-now-what/
  5. http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2014/04/closing_the_valve_on_history_f.html
  6. http://flintwaterstudy.org/information-for-flint-residents/results-for-citizen-testing-for-lead-300-kits/

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U.S. Air Force personnel unloading water for Flint residents.

Source: U.S. Air Force photo by Ray Crayton

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