Tests Reveal A New Problem With Treating Flint’s Lead-Tainted Water

CREDIT: AP Photo/Paul Sancya

Louis Singleton receives water filters, bottled water and a test kit from Michigan National Guard Specialist Joe Weaver as clean water supplies are distributed to residents, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016 in Flint, Mich.

Results of recently-tested water samples, released Friday out of Flint, Michigan, show levels of lead so high in some locations that government-issued filtration systems are unable to effectively treat the water.

Water problems began in Flint as early as April 2014, when state-appointed emergency managers made the decision to switch the city’s water supply from Detroit’s system to the Flint River. Unbeknownst at the time, the Flint River funneled corrosive water through the city’s old lead-lined pipes, which caused lead to leach into the public water. Tests conducted between January and June 2015 revealed lead levels of 11 parts per billion in the city’s drinking water — the EPA requires action be taken to monitor water corrosion when lead levels reach 15 parts per billion, though no level of exposure to lead is considered safe.

The most recent samples, collected from various locations around the city since late December, found exceedingly high levels of lead at 26 locations. Those levels range from 153 parts per billion and more than 4,000 parts per billion, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Those levels exceed the ability of filtration systems handed out to residents and businesses by the officials — the filters can only safely treat water with concentrations of lead up to 150 parts per billion.

“So this obviously raises concerns,” Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said at a news conference following an announcement of the results. “While the number of homes tested is still small, there is still concern, and I feel it is important for the residents of Flint to hear these residents and hear from experts about what these results mean.”

Officials said they were unsure why lead levels would be so high as to exceed the ability of filters, and that they would be looking into the matter. Environmental officials told Flint residents to continue to use the filters, as they would likely work in a majority of instances — excessive levels of lead were found in 26 samples out of 4,000 that were taken. But they also urged residents to have their water tested, if they had not done so already.

“It is essential that all Flint residents have the water in their homes tested as soon as possible,” Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) said in a press release issued Friday. “Please make it a priority for your family and encourage your friends and neighbors to obtain testing kits as well.”

Snyder’s administration has been criticized for its handling of the water crisis, with some suggesting that his officials ultimately made the call to switch to the Flint River as a water source despite being offered a less costly option. Snyder has denied these claims, saying that he did not know about the city’s water issues until recently. But state officials made the decision to provide water coolers to state workers in Flint nearly a year before issues with the city’s drinking water were fully exposed.

Snyder declared a state of emergency for Flint in early January of this year, months after tests showed high levels of lead in the blood of children. Residents and health officials worry about the irreversible damage that might have been done to Flint residents due to prolonged exposure to lead in their water. Studies have linked even low levels of lead exposure to cognitive and behavioral issues such as learning disabilities, attention disorders, and even a tendency towards violence. These issues are more pronounced in children and especially young and unborn children, whose brains and nervous systems are still forming.