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Flint starts second phase of lead service line replacements

A crew replacing a lead service line in Flint.
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio
Contractors break ground as part of a project to remove more than 200 service lines in Flint.

Flint’s long delayed second phase of its lead pipe replacement program is finally underway.

The city is replacing more than 200 lead and galvanized pipes connecting Flint homes and businesses to city water mains. The pipes are a primary source of lead in Flint’s drinking water.

Janet Hensley watched from her front door as contractors used shovels to dig up the front lawn of her home on Flint’s east side.

Little blue and yellow flags are dotted through Hensley’s block. The flags mark the location of natural gas lines and other underground utilities. 

Hensley says she’s glad the city is replacing her old service line. She says her water hasn’t tested positive for lead, but like many people in Flint, she’s been concerned about the quality of her tap water for years.

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver says the act of removing the pipes will likely release more lead into the water in the short term.

However, Hensley is cautious about what the new pipe might mean to her and her family, including a six-week old grandchild. She says a neighbor had their service line replaced earlier this year, and the lead levels in the neighbor’s home spike up, from zero to more than 20 parts per billion, well above the federal action level.

“Why is theirs still going up?  I believe it’s because of where they’re doing all the replacing … and it’s moving it through the pipes,” says Hensley.

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver says the act of removing the pipes will likely release more lead into the water in the short term.

“We do want people that to know that you don’t just turn it on and start drinking.  You have to flush and then use the filter,” says Weaver.

Eventually, Flint leaders hope to replace thousands of service lines.

The current pipe replacement program is being underwritten with $2 million from the state.   There’s another $25 million available.

However, city officials say it will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to remove all the aging lead and galvanized service lines that need to go. 

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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