The State of Michigan Says Flint’s Water Is Safe
Note: Freshwater Future recommends that all Flint residents take advantage of the state’s water testing and water filter programs. As a Flint resident, you may have your water tested by the State for free, and you are entitled to free faucet filters and replacement cartridges. Filters are vital for any faucet that is used for water consumption, and it is important to remember that most faucet filters must be replaced after just a few hundred gallons of flow. Since human skin does not absorb lead, showering and washing in unfiltered water is considered safe.
On July 26th, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) posted a press release announcing that the City of Flint’s water system has tested below the EPA’s action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb) for the past 12 consecutive months. The most recent testing data—confirmed by the EPA—shows that 90 percent of residential homes tested at or below 7 ppb.
Touting this tremendous improvement in water quality, Rich Baird, the senior advisor to Governor Snyder and team leader for the state’s Mission Flint Office, stated “make no mistake about it, according to the data, Flint’s water quality has been restored.”
While we applaud the State for its role in this evident progress, claiming that the problem has been resolved is premature. There are still at least 1,300 residential homes with detectable levels of lead, and at least 178 residential homes testing at or above the EPA action level of 15 ppb—some at hundreds of parts per billion. In all likelihood, persistent low levels of lead are likely to endure for a good portion of residents as the city continues the long process of replacing lead service lines. Vibrations from service and construction can dislodge lead from eroding pipes and cause spikes in lead concentrations.
Despite the data showing relatively low levels of lead, the position of the vast majority of scientific studies and the EPA is that there is no safe level of lead exposure. Exposures to lead are cumulative, and drinking lead-contaminated water is only about 1/5th of the average individual’s exposure to the heavy metal. Soil, leaded-gasoline, dust from lead-based paints, and some forms of industrial pollution all contribute to an individual’s overall exposure. Not coincidentally, the same communities at risk for lead-contaminated tap water are the same communities most at risk for exposure to lead by other sources—Flint, with its high number of old and decaying homes, is no exception.
Lead is persistent, and it can bio-accumulate in the body over time. Once it enters, it is distributed to critical organs—the brain, kidneys, and liver—and stored in our teeth and bones, where it can be re-mobilized later. Sometimes this occurs during pregnancy as a mother’s body transfers calcium from her bones to her fetus. Lead is able to cross the placental barrier and even small concentrations can result in premature birth and stunted growth.
A dose of lead that would have little effect on an adult can have a significant effect on a child. Low levels of exposure have been linked to damage to the central and peripheral nervous system, lower IQ, hyperactivity, learning disabilities, slowed growth, impaired hearing, and impaired formation and function of blood cells (e.g. anemia). In adults, high levels of lead exposure or persistent low exposures over time can cause cardiovascular diseases, increased blood pressure, incidences of hypertension, decreased kidney function, and reproductive complications in both men and women.
Thankfully, the Governor’s office, the DEQ, and the Flint city government have acknowledged the still widespread mistrust of the city’s water system by residents, and the threat of persistent low exposures produced in part by service line replacement. The DEQ has announced that, even though they are not required to by law, the state will continue to provide free water filters, replacement cartridges and water testing kits until all lead service lines have been replaced.
Additionally, free bottled water will be distributed at four locations indefinitely, and the remaining distribution points (barring two of the least-trafficked locations) will remain open through the summer. We urge the state to ensure that these four locations are accessible to every resident who wishes to continue using bottled water in their homes and adjust distribution accordingly if community feedback proves that this is not the case.