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Experts tout "improvement" in Flint water; city residents skeptical

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver (at the podium) was joined by national and local experts to discuss the latest Flint water test results.
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver (at the podium) was joined by national and local experts to discuss the latest Flint water test results.

Government and independent experts told people at a town hall meeting in Flint last night thatthe city’s lead-tainted tap water is improving.But audience members remained skeptical. 

Flint’s tap water became contaminated with lead after the city’s drinking water source was switched to the Flint River. Improperly treated river water damaged pipes, which leached lead into the tap water. 

But more than a year after Flint was switched back to its old water source, it’s finally showing signs of improvement. 

Mark Durno is with the federal Environmental Protection Agency. He told the overflow crowd at Flint’s Northbank Center that tests show efforts to repair the damage done by improperly treated water are having an effect.

“Lead levels are substantially reduced. Orthophosphate is doing its job recoating the pipes. Chlorine levels have improved and stabilized throughout the system for effective disinfection,” said Durno.

Authorities are quick to add Flint’s tap water is still not safe to drink without a filter. That may continue to be the case for years, while the city replaces thousands of damaged pipes connecting homes to city water mains.  

With that knowledge – and having heard government officials say their water was “OK” or “improving” before, only to learn later that wasn’t the case – many in the audience did not conceal their skepticism.

Water bottles littered on a sidewalk in Flint.
Credit Mark Brush / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Water bottles are ubiquitous in Flint. Water bottles litter the sidewalk in Flint.

Whenever a panelist talked about Flint’s improving water quality, some people starting crinkling plastic water bottles. The noise didn’t disrupt the meeting. But it did send a reminder that Flint residents have been relying on bottled water for everything from drinking to bathing children for more than a year.

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver admits her city’s residents are tired of government assurances that things are getting better.

“We’re angry. And we’re scared. And we’re anxious. And we’re confused. And we sure don’t trust,” Weaver said after one member of the audience was nearly removed by police officers from the town hall after shouting at the panel of experts.

Weaver says Flint will need more financial help from the state and federal governments to replace tens of thousands of service lines connecting homes and businesses to city water mains. It’s estimated that more than 20,000 of those pipes may contain lead, which could continue leaching into tap water, despite the city’s “improving” water testing results.  

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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