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Governor's Flint committee talks water safety evaluations

Will Greenberg/Michigan Radio

Governor Snyder's committee on the Flint water crisis met again Friday, primarily discussing the best evaluation tools for assessing the city's water safety.

Comprised of notables like Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, along with high-ranking officials from agencies like the MDEQ and Health and Human Services, the Flint Water Interagency Coordinating Committee is tasked with developing long-term solutions to the water crisis. The governor formed the committee with an executive order in January.

The group heard presentations from experts and local officials, including civil and environmental engineering professor Yanna Lambrinidou of Virginia Tech. 

Joining the meeting remotely over video-chat, Lambrinidou outlined the shortcomings of the federal lead and copper rule (LCR). She said compliance with LCR does not mean the water system is necessarily safe.

"I think that we must abandon our desire to declare water safe to drink just because it meets regulatory standards," Lambrinidou said. 

She said the rule needs several modifications, including banning partial lead service line replacement, as it can actually exacerbate the lead level in the water. She also called for a ban on sampling methods known to miss lead and for more reliable corrosion control. 

Overall, those evaluating Flint should use a compliance mechanism that better assesses public safety, rather than simply compliance, she said. 

"Flint, Washington, D.C., and the history of the lead and copper rule call for self-reflection in the regulated and regulating communities alike about how the lead and copper rule systematically betrays the public's health and keeps consumers unequipped, disempowered, and suboptimally protected," Lambrinidou said. 

"These revisions by themselves would create multiple layers of safeguards and would have either prevented or would have dramatically reduced the public health harm in both Flint and in Washington, D.C. twelve or so years ago." 

The goal, Lambrinidou said, is to develop a new lead and copper rule that can both assure Flint residents that they are taking all necessary precautions and also serve as a national model. 

She added that the other imperative for the committee should be transparency with the community.

"We need to be honest here," she said in an interview after the meeting.

The committee discussed compiling visual-based information to provide to Flint residents, possibly in the form of a DVD. 

Laura Sullivan, professor at Flint's Kettering University, serves on the FWICC as a representative for Mayor Weaver. She told the committee that keeping residents in the loop as to what houses are getting attention first, and why, will help alleviate fears that anyone is being ignored.

"Without good information, without feeling like they're included in the decision-making process, it won't get better," Sullivan said.  

As of March 1, 564 Flint homes have been tested by workers at sentinel sites across the city. Of those, 54 had water lead levels higher than 15 parts per billion, the threshold for deeming water unsafe. 

Keith Creagh, director of the MDEQ, told the committee Friday that his office sees concentrations of the most affected homes, which could help identify the worst lead-bearing pipes. 

Creagh said there will not be partial replacements of the pipes, and replacement of all lead-service-lines will be done in a way that prevents further lead contamination. 

City workers begia digging up Flint’s water pipes today, though private contractors have already started working. 

Cost remains the largest impediment to removing all lead service lines. Flint Mayor Karen Weaver estimates the project will take $50 million, while the state has provided $2 million and Snyder is requesting an additional $25 million. 

"Let's continue this process, let's keep moving forward, keep pushing forward," Snyder told the room on Friday. "This is something that we have great urgency to do and let's get the job done to take care of the citizens of Flint."

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