Flint Water Crisis
As the Flint Water Crisis continues to make national headlines, and as Michigan and Flint residents try to find out who in the world we got here, more questions are getting asked as to what our state regulators and officials did, and did not do, over the past 18 months.
One such question is how the state computed the lead levels coming out of the Flint water supply last summer and why the state failed to take corrective action then. Allegations are now coming out that the state knew about the high lead levels all along. Research by the ACLU and Michigan Radio has found that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) changed water test results in 2015 to mask the severity of the lead amounts in the Flint water supply.
According to the research, Flint city officials broke federal laws by failing to collect water samples from homes that were at the highest risk of lead contamination within the water supply. Further, no follow-up tests were administered on homes showing high lead leads, as required under federal law.
Even worse, the DEQ intentionally may have rejected samples from homes that would have pushed test results above a level at which the city was be required to alert residents about abnormally high lead contamination.
According to Michigan Radio, one of the best ways for a city to discover if lead in the water supply is a problem is through federally mandated tests completed under something called the “lead and copper rule.” Under the rule, a city is supposed to identify the homes most at risk for lead exposure, and test the water coming out of those homes.
Since the city of Flint has around 100,000 people, the requirement is to take at least 100 samples from those homes and calculate the 90th percentile of those samples. If the sampling shows that the 90th percentile calculation is above 15 parts per billion, the city is mandated under law to take action to solve the problem. This includes telling city residents about the problem.
But the DEQ did not want to admit there is a problem. Marc Edwards, a Professor of Engineering from Virginia Tech University retained by Flint to study the problem, says the state altered the testing to stay below the 15 parts per billion threshold.
According to Mr. Edwards, Flint only collected 71 samples instead of 100. Although those samples were not “worse-case scenario” samples, even with these samples the city was above the threshold. When the city submitted its findings, the state instructed the city to drop two samples for allegedly violating testing guidelines. When these two samples were dropped, the remaining 69 samples had a 90th percentile lead result that was below the 15 parts per billions threshold. As one can imagine, the two samples that were dropped were samples that well above the federal action level.
This type of concerted effort to hide the truth from the public is criminal. The U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Michigan says it is investigating the matter for criminal wrongdoing.
Gina Balaya, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Michigan, said last week “(The U.S. Attorney’s office) is working closely with the EPA” on the investigation “to address the concerns of Flint residents.” Although I’m not holding my breath about any criminal prosecutions, let’s hope a proper and thorough investigation into the DEQ and Governor Snyder office’s role in this tragedy is completed. The public deserves to know the truth.