FLINT, MI — Despite claims by city and state officials that the water supply in Flint is safe to drink, independent expert tests conclusively show that city’s drinking water is contaminated with dangerously high levels of lead.
In an equally damning conclusion, the researchers contend that the city’s own water-testing procedures and the state’s oversight are badly flawed, leading them to claim that the water is safe.
Researchers at Virginia Tech, led by civil and environmental engineering professor Marc Edwards, working closely with a grassroots group of citizens representing the Flint Clean Water Coalition and the ACLU of Michigan, studied water samples from 277 homes in Flint over the past several weeks and concluded that, unless run through a filter designed to capture lead, the city’s water is unsafe for drinking or use in cooking.
These results were announced at a Flint press conference and town hall meeting held Sept. 15.
In citing their conclusions, the researchers also heavily criticized the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) for its contention that the water is safe.
“On the basis of these facts, we consider MDEQ’s position to be both unscientific and irresponsible, and we stand by our recommendations to Flint consumers, that they immediately reduce their exposure to high lead in Flint’s water by implementing protective measures when using tap water for drinking or cooking,” according to a post on the project’s Flint Water Study web site.
In a statement made to the Flint Journal, MDEQ spokesman Brad Wurfel attempted to discredit the Virginia Tech study.
“The issue here isn’t Flint’s water source or water plants,” Wurfel asserted. “It’s the high number of older homes with lead pipes and lead service connections…lead and copper are home plumbing problems that no water source can eliminate entirely.”
In a post on a website about the study, known as the Flint Water Project, the research team notes that the problem isn’t limited to aging residences with old plumbing.
“During our sampling events in Flint homes, we are finding very high lead in other homes with modern lead free plumbing, which again points to city owned lead pipes and corrosive water as the problem,” read one post.
For its part, the MDEQ has a vested interest in defending the quality of Flint’s water. After Flint received much cleaner Detroit water for decades, Darnell Earley, an emergency manager appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder, decided in a cost-saving measure to switch to the highly corrosive Flint River in April 2014 as the city’s main water supply until the Karegondi pipeline is built.
According to Edwards, MDEQ and the city did not consider it necessary to address the threat of corrosion that the river water posted to the iron and lead pipes in the city’s delivery system. This failure, he said, is wreaking havoc with Flint’s infrastructure and causing the very high lead levels.
The ACLU of Michigan’s investigation has also uncovered a number of problems with the city’s testing procedures and with the state’s oversight, both of which helped assure that the city would be able to claim compliance with federal regulations.
Curt Guyette is an investigative reporter for the ACLU of Michigan. Reach him at 313-578-6834 or firstname.lastname@example.org.