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Virginia Tech's latest Flint water tests: not safe to drink, but getting better

Filling a sample bottle.
Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech released its latest round of water tests from Flint homes today.

Here are the take-home messages:

Some good news: The team, led by former Flint resident LeeAnne Walters and the Flint citizen science group, sampled lead levels in water in 162 homes in July 2016. The 90th percentile level for lead was 13.9 ppb. This is below the EPA action level of 15ppb.

But there’s an important caveat here. Kelsey Pieper, a postdoctoral fellow at Virginia Tech, said their sampling pool is a random sample of homes and does not specifically target the highest risk homes for lead. So, while their results show the homes they tested are below the action level, it’s not an official result that would qualify under the EPA’s Lead and Copper Rule.

If you live in Flint, you should still drink only filtered or bottled water

Virginia Tech’s Marc Edwards said, “No one is saying the water is safe to drink yet.”

He urged residents to continue drinking bottled water and using their filters. But he said, “The wind is at our back,” explaining that corrosion control is working in Flint and the system is on its way to recovery. Edwards says Flint water looks like it’s entering a range that’s considered normal compared to other U.S. cities.

You can watch the news conference here:


By-products of chlorine disinfection

Edwards also discussed the ongoing testing of disinfection by-products (DBPs for short) in Flint water. Those are compounds that form when you add chlorine to water for disinfection.

Earlier this year, Mark Ruffalo’s nonprofit group Water Defense came to Flint. The group claimed it found dangerous levels of disinfection by-products in bathtubs and showers in Flint.

Edwards, along with experts at the University of Massachusetts, have debunked the group's claims, and criticized the group’s methods, saying they lack scientific rigor.

The team from UMass continues to test Flint’s water for both regulated and unregulated DBPs.

Marc Edwards said today, “There is nothing unusual or alarming happening with respect to disinfection by-products in Flint, hot or cold water.”

Mayor Weaver responds

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said in a statement:

“I want to thank Dr. Marc Edwards and his team at Virginia Tech for the research and information they continue to provide on the quality of the water in Flint. In reviewing their latest findings announced today, it’s encouraging to see that the water in the city appears to be getting better. While science seems to show things are improving, Edwards stressed that the current water quality in Flint still isn’t good enough and it’s not safe to drink. It’s important for residents to keep using the filters and bottled water being provided at water resource sites located around the city. It remains unclear when it will be safe for the people of Flint to turn on their faucets and drink water straight from the tap. Marc Edwards said today that he would like to see not only the lead pipes in Flint replaced, but the fixtures as well. Replacing the city’s damaged and antiquated infrastructure is essential and we need the funds to do it. We know the residents of Flint want nothing less than new pipes and our work to make that happen is underway. Yesterday, the Receivership Transition Advisory Board (RTAB) approved contracts for three companies to begin replacing more lead-tainted pipes at homes in Flint. We hope to have crews out on the job in the next couple of weeks.”

Rebecca Williams is senior editor in the newsroom, where she edits stories and helps guide news coverage.
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