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Federal, state and local officials meet to talk about Flint's water woes

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

Amid growing concerns about Flint’s drinking water, federal, state and local elected leaders were briefed today in Lansing by federal and state environmental regulators. After the meeting, one prominent elected official called for more independent testing of Flint's drinking water.

Recent tests by researchers from Virginia Tech University have shown "serious" lead levels in a significant percentage of Flint homes. The tests showed lead levels in some homes at 15 parts per billion or higher. The researchers have advised many homeowners to stop drinking their tap water, especially if there are young children or pregnant women living there.

Virginia Tech researchers claim the higher than normal lead levels can be traced to the corrosive nature of the water the city is getting from the Flint River. The city has been tapping the river as its drinking water source for more than a year.  

The researchers claim the Flint River is 19 times more corrosive than the water from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department it replaced. The corrosiveness of the water is blamed for breaking down lead pipes and lead solder in homes and transmission lines connected to city water mains. 

In response to the Virginia Tech tests and other problems, Flint-area U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee and several state lawmakers asked the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to explain what’s being done. 

Today’s meeting was meant to be a forum to answer those questions.

“We definitely need some near- and long-term solutions here,” says Brad Wurfel, a MDEQ spokesman. “And we started the dialog with state and local lawmakers.”

Wurfel says the group discussed test results, including tests overseen by state officials that have not shown an increase in lead levels. 

Critics have complained those tests were skewed to show lower lead levels. Those same critics have focused their complaints about the handling of the situation on Flint city officials and the MDEQ.

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee says he wants more independent tests of Flint's water supply.

"It is clear to me that immediate independent and scientific testing is necessary to determine the safety of Flint’s water," Kildee says in a written statement, "So far, the city, DEQ and EPA have not adequately answered my questions on their testing methods to ensure the safety of Flint’s water."

While several potential sources for funding to help Flint upgrade its aging water system were discussed, in the short-term, it appears much of the burden will fall on homeowners to replace aging lead pipes and/or use special filters to reduce potential lead contamination.  

Flint Mayor Dayne Walling recently sent a letter to Governor Snyder asking for $30 million to help fix the city’s water problems. Of that, $10 million would go toward replacing old lead pipes.  

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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