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Flint mayor: City will remove lead service lines to "high risk homes"

Kate Wells/Michigan Radio

Flint will start replacing lead service lines connected to homes with pregnant women or kids under the age of six.

That’s according to Mayor Karen Weaver, who said those are the “highest risk” homes in the city.

But she isn’t saying how many homes that will be, or how much it’ll cost. That could be because the city doesn’t really know yet.

Experts and the University of Michigan-Flint campus hope to have a better sense later this week of where the lead service lines in the city are located. The city’s own records are a mess, written on index cards, often smudged, and thousands of them are lost, so mapping this is a huge task.   

But on Tuesday, Weaver said they’ll start with families that have been identified through medical services, including the state health department and local hospitals, which have been doing lead exposure tests.

“We’ve been tracking that information, and as people have been going door to door, we’ve had DHS with us, also getting that kind of information,” said Weaver. “And we hope if we miss somebody, people will also self-identify as well.”

Weaver said the city will work closely with Lansing officials, who say they have removed all but 700 of that city’s lead service lines. Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero said his city spent $42 million removing some 13,000 service lines.

He said their method doesn’t require workers to dig trenches down to the service lines – rather, he said, they’ve got a “threading” method where they’re able to remove the line from either its connection to the home or its connection to the main water line. Bernero said it’s a lot faster and cheaper than other removals.

But the EPA says disturbing pipes with a lot of lead built up in them could actually release that  built-up lead (in the form of sediment or lead scales) into other parts of the drinking water system. If that’s the case, then the EPA believes removing lead service lines might actually be more dangerous than allowing the city’s current corrosion control efforts to play out.

Meanwhile, Weaver said she’s seeking a mix of private and public funding to help with the lead service line removal, and specifically mentioned philanthropic charities.

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.