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U.S. EPA will audit Michigan safe drinking water program, in wake of Flint's problems

EPA Region 5 director Susan Hedman (file photo).
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

A federal agency will review how the state of Michigan monitors local drinking water.

Regional EPA administrator Susan Hedman says her agency will conduct an audit of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s drinking water program.

“EPA is conducting this audit to ensure that MDEQ maintains reliable drinking water supplies that meet all of the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act,” Hedman said. “This comprehensive audit will provide Flint residents and the people of Michigan with more information about MDEQ oversight of public water supplies and will identify actions that may be needed to strengthen the Michigan drinking water program.” 

MDEQ has been criticized for failing to detect problems with Flint’s drinking water after the city switched to its namesake river last year.

During the 18 months that the city took its tap water from the Flint River, residents complained about the smell, taste and appearance of their drinking water.  There were also E coli outbreaks and higher than acceptable levels of chemicals used to treat the water, as well as their by-products.   

Researchers also claim the corrosiveness of the river water damaged pipes containing lead, in people’s homes and in city transmission lines. The result was increasing levels of lead in the city’s drinking water. 

The MDEQ apparently failed to ensure the city used proper corrosion controls to lessen the effect of the river water. 

“What happened in Flint shouldn’t have happened," says Hedman, who says as a result, "there is a lack of public confidence in the drinking water program here in Michigan.”

A spokesman says the agency welcomes the EPA review of its drinking water program, adding EPA “can count on our full cooperation and transparency.”

The written statement continues:

“We’ve appreciated the federal government’s support on the situation in Flint – including its announcement last week that the Lead and Copper rule speaks ambiguously on the corrosion control issue. Nobody wants to see a situation like Flint, and we look forward in working with our federal partners going forward because we share the goal of making sure the Flint situation is not repeated – in Michigan, or anywhere else."

MDEQ officials say tests from nearly 400 homes and businesses in Flint indicate problems with lead are localized to individual buildings or even individual faucets.

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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