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State to change water testing kits in Flint to determine impact of old plumbing on crisis

Rex Babiera
Flicker https://flic.kr/p/8HGMDv
Plumbing can be a contributing factor to high lead levels in water.

In Flint, we know lead has leached from water pipes, called service lines. But it’s not as clear how much the plumbing in people’s homes is contributing to the problem.

“There were no lead service lines to any of the schools and yet there was a significant amount of lead in a number of the samples,” said George Krisztian, who’s coordinating the state’s response in Flint for Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality.

“So the question was, 'OK, where is the lead coming from?” Krisztian recalls.

In Flint’s schools, he says tests showed a lot of lead was leaching from the fixtures and faucets inside the school. Until a couple of years ago, brass water fixtures could be up to 8% lead.

Researchers say Flint’s corroded water pipes are starting to heal; slowly regaining the protective scale that keeps water from leaching lead from older water service lines.

“Controlling lead leaching from brass though, it’s much more difficult,” Virginia Tech’s Marc Edwards said. He’s been studying Flint’s water for more than a year.

“All the data we’ve been collecting is suggesting that the fixtures are becoming more significant as a source because the lead release from the other sources is being controlled very effectively,” he said.

Residents will notice the testing kits they pick up will now include at least one smaller bottle.

“When you use a 250 mL bottle you’re going to get a very good picture of what’s going on right there at the faucet,” Krisztian said. “Then we can see how much lead (fixtures are) contributing and what is it that we can do to make things better?”

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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