Q&A: What Really Happened to the Water in Flint, Michigan?

This is what most don’t know is there are lots of risks with drinking water. Think about the Walkerton fiasco, chlorine treatment doesn’t actually kill cryptosporidium or giardia, or what about Toledo, Ohio’s State of Emergency. The delay in learning the test results from water samples has its on inherent risks. I’ve only been learning about the risks to drinking for the last 4 years and I know every day communities are dealing with water problems as new boil water advisories are announced. I have given up putting my faith in the costly, centralized drinking water to be safe; I trust my own abilities and installed my own drinking water treatment system. Plus I would rather our communities and regional districts focus on climate change contaminants that we aren’t aware of than the ones that have economical solutions readily available to homeowners. Click here to read the full article or an excerpt below.


What government agencies are responsible for testing the water, and what methods do they use?

There is a [lead testing] method that’s specified by the EPA, and that’s the method I prefer. But over the years water companies have added extra steps—all of which tend to make lead lower when you sample it than when you drink it.

So in Flint they were using some of these extra steps—a pre-flushing technique. So the irony is that even as National Guard people walk the streets and people are being told to use filters, Flint has never failed the [EPA’s] Lead and Copper Rule. I have been fighting for the last 10 years to try to just make the rule be followed.

Under the Lead and Copper Rule the water company only has to sample 100 homes once per year. The bargain was, “We won’t make you sample everyone’s house, but if you pick these 100 houses to be the worst houses, and you sample the worst houses, if there’s a problem we will see it.” That’s the logic. Then you’ll know if you have a problem.

Well, they’ve never done that. They tend to go sample 100 houses that don’t have lead. The EPA never enforced it’s own rule. That’s what was happening in Flint—Flint was telling the state, in writing, “Every house we sampled has a lead pipe.” That was all a lie. That’s been acknowledged now.

If residents are concerned, how they can test if their water is safe?

In recent years we’ve learned that simply testing the water one time doesn’t tell you much. The problem is coming from pieces of rust that fall off into the water at [random] intervals. Sometimes a chunk of that corrosion will fall off a lead pipe. If you’re unlucky and you put your glass under the tap at that time, you can drink a glass of water that creates the same lead exposure as eating eleven paint chips.

As long as you have lead pipes and lead plumbing, you have a hazard. I recommend buying a $20 lead filter, and if it’s NSF [National Sanitation Foundation]-certified, you put it on your tap and you can filter all the water you use for cooking or drinking. You can dramatically reduce or almost eliminate lead hazards in water used for cooking or drinking. They’re rated up to 125 ppb by the National Sanitation Foundation, but we’ve tested them at much higher levels, and they’re very effective.

What are you and your team doing now?

We do everything related to plumbing systems in big buildings, and the opportunistic infections like legionella. It’s been our niche area.  After we started counting bodies of people dying of legionella, people started to take this very, very seriously—so that’s where we’ll be continuing our work.

I feel strongly that we’re defending science and engineering as a public good. I feel the stakes are incredibly high. If you’re waking up every day with a sense of purpose, there’s no stopping you. That’s how our team feels.



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