EPA to Flint: Keep Using Filters

An EPA official says residents drinking tap water in Flint, Mich., barring significant improvement, should plan to use filters through at least the end of the year, according to the Detroit Free Press. Officials say there is no timetable for residents to be able to consume tap water without filters.

Flint Water

It has been nearly a year since the City of Flint declared its lead-contaminated water unsafe to drink straight from the tap. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency in January 2016.

“We’re going to be where we are now for the rest of the calendar year,” said Mark Durno, deputy chief of the EPA’s emergency response branch, adding that lead levels would have to drop more dramatically than expected for the agency to declare the tap water safe to drink without filtering.

The uncertainty about filters is just one sign of how cloudy the end of the Flint water crisis remains.

Since fall 2015, when local and state officials acknowledged the city’s water contamination and moved to change the city’s water source back to Detroit’s water system, Flint’s water quality and lead levels have generally been improving, according to government testing and independent sampling by Virginia Tech professor Marc Edwards.

Edwards is generally credited with bringing widespread attention to the city’s lead-contaminated water.

Filtered tap water can now be consumed by all city residents, say state and federal officials as well as outside experts. But two years and five months after the city’s switch to the Flint River as a drinking water supply, state and federal officials said in interviews they still can’t say which specific thresholds will be used to declare an end to the drinking-water crisis or a likely time line.

Among the challenges are the scope and intensity of the damage cause by corrosive water moving through the city’s water distribution system for nearly 18 months. Other factors include the intense spotlight on the city by federal regulators.

In a recent interview, Gov. Snyder said it would be inappropriate to set a time frame for when the city might be given an all-clear to drink unfiltered water and did not want to speculate.

According to the Free Press, Richard Baird, government transformation manager under Snyder, has been working in Flint to lead a multi-department effort to keep the governor apprised, said he believes several goals need to be achieved to reach a successful recovery. These include:

  • Full compliance with the federal Lead and Copper Rule;
  • Optimization of corrosion control to prevent future lead contamination;
  • Adequate staffing and personnel training in the Flint water department;
  • Replacement of damaged water service lines;
  • Determination of a backup water source for the city; and
  • Readiness to complete the city’s transfer to the Karegnondi Water Authority as a new water source, and completion of adopted recommendations by the governor’s Flint task force.

Flint’s drinking water supply was first contaminated with lead starting in April 2014 when the city, while under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager, switched the source of supply from Lake Huron water supplied by the City of Detroit to Flint River water treated at Flint’s city treatment plant. Michigan DEQ officials have since acknowledged they made a mistake when they failed to require the needed corrosion control chemicals to be added to the water.

As a result, lead leached from pipes and fixtures into the drinking water and tests showed lead levels spiked in the blood of some Flint children. Although the city switched back to Detroit water in October 2015, officials say the potential for harm continues because of damage done to Flint’s water distribution infrastructure.

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