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Flint meeting eases few concerns about safety of the city's water

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

Flint officials tried again last night to convince city residents their tap water is safe to drink. 

Most of the people at the meeting left with doubts.

Flint’s water system has been plagued with problems since last spring. The city stopped taking water from Detroit and started tapping the Flint River for its drinking water.  

Since then, residents have complained about dirty, smelly water. There have been numerous boil water advisories. The city has also been cited for violating the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, after higher than acceptable levels of a disinfectant chemical turned up in testing. 

Wednesday, the city brought in experts from the Department of Environmental Quality and Michigan State University to reassure people that the water is safe to drink. It didn’t work.

“Look at that water. None of you white people would drink that water,” one woman shouted from the audience as men and women held up bottles of discolored water. 

Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Many people in Flint say their tap water is dirty and smelly. They also fear its not safe to drink.

The crowd grew restless at first, and then angry, as the panel of experts tried to explain the issues facing the city’s water system.

Mary Wright left the meeting frustrated by what she perceived as a lack of answers.

“We’re drinking water that’s not fit for human consumption,” Wright complained, “and we’re paying an arm and a leg for it.”

Qwonda White offered a simple solution.

“I say stop paying the water bill. We can’t use it,” White said as she left the meeting.

Howard Croft is Flint’s Public Works director. 

Despite the sometimes raucous crowd, he believes the meeting succeeded in passing along important information.

“We’ll continue to listen to their concerns and do the best we can,” says Croft.  

Some people asked why Flint just doesn’t go back to using Detroit water until problems with the city’s system are worked out. The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department has offered to do just that. But Flint officials say the cash-strapped city can’t afford the roughly $1 million a month cost of restarting the pipeline to Detroit. 

Flint will eventually get its tap water from a new pipeline being built from Lake Huron. But the Karegnondi pipeline won't begin operating until sometime late next year.   

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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