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Despite some progress, EPA says Flint, state still not doing enough to ensure safe drinking water

The Flint River and the Flint water treatment plant.
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says there’s still work to be done to ensure clean drinking water in Flint.

In a letter to state and city officials today, the agency laid out “two significant issues that need immediate attention” as it relates to complying with an emergency order the EPA issued on Jan. 21.

The first: A “comprehensive and interactive” corrosion control plan for the water the city is currently sending to people’s homes. Flint reconnected to Detroit water last October. But it’s putting additional chlorine and orthophosphate into that already-treated water. “EPA remains concerned that the city of Flint has not optimized where it is monitoring water quality … to ensure adequate treatment options,” the agency says.

City and state officials failed to ensure Flint’s drinking water was properly treated  when it started pumping from the Flint River in April 2014. That went on for a year and half, and resulted in lead being leached into people’s tap water – which in turn led to lead poisoning in some children.

A spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality says the agency “is in the process of reviewing and responding to the EPA. In the meantime, we look forward to continuing our collaborative work with the EPA to ensure that Flint water is safe to drink and that the proper regulatory support is in place.”

The second significant issue, according to the EPA, is that the city doesn’t have enough qualified people on staff to ensure water quality. “Based on … EPA’s observations on the ground, the staffing appears inadequate.”

"Based on ... EPA's observations on the ground, the staffing appears inadequate."

In an email, a spokeswoman for Mayor Karen Weaver says she “agrees that continued corrosion control is essential at all times to protect Flint residents from any lead solder in household plumbing and other plumbing fixtures. 

“To the claims about qualified personnel, Mayor Weaver looks forward to working with the EPA and the state and federal governments to build the additional capacity needed for Flint to comply with all state and federal rules for safe drinking water.”

The EPA says there “has been progress toward compliance” with the order. The city plans to begin lead service line replacement this week, which the agency says it supports. But, it says, “lead service line replacement will not change the continued need for a robust and ongoing optimized corrosion control treatment program.”

Sarah Hulett is Michigan Public's Director of Amplify & Longform, helping reporters to do their best work.
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