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Experts say Flint water quality improving, accuse enviro group of "false alarm"

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio
Dr. Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech University

Water experts from across the country are dismissing warnings from an environmental group of high levels of contaminants in Flint’s drinking water.    

The experts say new data actually show Flint’s water improving since the switch back to Detroit water last fall. The water is still not safe to drink or cook with unfiltered.  

At a news conference today in Flint, researchers from Virginia Tech University, Wayne State University and the University of Massachusetts outlined the findings of their recent tests on the city’s drinking water.

The researchers covered several key areas, including lead contamination, disinfection by-products and the bacteria that causes Legionnaires' disease.

In each area, the researchers claim Flint’s water system is improving.

Their research comes as the environmental group, Water Defense, is raising concerns about the continued presence of contaminates in Flint’s drinking water.    

Virginia Tech’s Marc Edwards has been studying Flint’s water for a year. His research played a significant role in identifying high lead levels in the city’s tap water last summer. 

Edwards says the problem with Water Defense’s results is the method it used to test the water. He says the group's test samples could be contaminated by the air in people’s homes.    

“The way they gathered their data, created this concern, what I would call a false alarm, is not an approved method of sampling in water,” says Edwards. 

The experts say the so-called WaterBug testing method used by Water Defense can be affected by indoor air pollution.

Scott Smith is an investigator with Water Defense. He’s taken many of the group’s water samples in Flint.  

Smith says they used the WaterBug test as a way to test the potential exposure Flint residents may face showering or bathing.  

“I have a lot of respect for Dr. Edwards and the team of people that were there,” Smith says, referring to the water experts taking part in today’s news conference.

He says he would like to see a comparison made of the data Water Defense has collected, along with the work of the EPA and other researchers.  

He says only an epidemiology study is needed to fully assess the state of the city’s water supply today. 

“It’s about what’s in the best interest of the community,” says Smith.   

More testing is on tap.

Dr. Edwards says his team plans to conduct more tests in July.  

It’s possible by sometime in August officials may have a better idea when Flint residents will be able to run their taps without worry.  

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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