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Flint issues warning about lead in city's drinking water

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

The city of Flint has issued an advisory for lead in city drinking water.

The advisory comes a day after local hospital officials announced blood lead levels in young children in Flint have doubled, and in some cases tripled, since the city started getting its drinking water from the Flint River in April of 2014.

Mayor Dayne Walling says city residents should take steps to reduce their lead exposure.

The city is recommending Flint water users:

·        Flush cold water pipes by running the water for approximately five minutes before use.

·        Use only water from the cold water tap for drinking, cooking and especially for making baby formula

·        Install a water filter that is NSF-certified for lead removal


The mayor says the city is also taking steps to address the problem, and plans to reduce corrosion in the city’s drinking water.

Walling says the goal is to make Flint “lead-free."

“So that whatever our water source and situation is … that we are providing a safe environment for all of Flint’s families … especially our children,” says Walling.

But it is the source of the city’s drinking water that many critics say is the source of the problem.

Curt Guyette, with the ACLU, says city leaders’ insistence that Flint’s water is “clean and safe” while blaming lead pipes for the lead in the water is “double talk." Guyette says it’s clear the corrosiveness of the Flint River is causing the lead pipes to break down.   

“They are doing everything they can to try to not admit that,” says Guyette.

City, Genesee County and state officials say they are reviewing data collected by researchers from Virginia Tech. 

The Virginia Tech researchers tested water samples collected from nearly 300 Flint homes. Many of the homes tested above the 15 parts per billion threshold.

Similar testing by the city and overseen by the state showed lower lead levels.

Officials says it’s that disagreement that’s causing some delay in coming up with a response. 

“You need concrete data. And I’m going to be quite honest, there’s some conflicting data right now, in terms of the results that have been presented,” says Mark Valacak is the health officer with the Genesee County Health Department. 

“As we move forward, we’ll have more data and be able to justify … additional resources coming in to the community,” says Valacak.

Mayor Walling has asked the governor’s office for $30 million to fix the system and help replace lead pipes. 

The lead pipe problem is not confined to individual homes. City officials say 15,000 transmission lines connecting homes to city water mains are made with lead pipes. That’s about half of the city’s customers.  

You can read an FAQ from the state about water lead levels here.

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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