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Tests show lead levels in Flint drinking water decline

steve carmody
Michigan Radio

Flint continues to make progress in reducingleadin its drinking water.

In 2016, tests showed Flint’s drinking water contained high levels of lead contamination (20 parts per billion). Government standards require action to be taken if lead levels top 15 parts per billion. 

The rise in lead levels came after the ill-fated decision to switch the city's drinking water source in 2014 from Detroit's water system to the Flint River. Improperly treated river water damaged pipes, releasing lead into the drinking water.     

The 2016 test results are more than six times the levels of lead recorded in the latest round of tests which show the level of lead has dropped to three parts per billion.

While well within state and federal standards, no level of lead is consideredsafe for humans.

Mayor Sheldon Neeley concedes the good results will not be enough to convince skeptical Flint residents to trust their tap water is safe.

“We know there is a crisis in confidence inside the city,” said Neeley. “We’re working very hard through our partnerships to rebuild that.”

One of those partnerships is with the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE).

EGLE director Liesl Clark said Flint’s water system has tested below action levels of the federal Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) during 10 consecutive monitoring periods, starting in the summer of 2016.

She called Thursday’s announcement “a milestone.”

“EGLE remains committed to protecting residents from lead exposure by working collaboratively with the city to reduce and ultimately eliminate sources of lead in their drinking water system,” said Clark.

Friday is another milestone for Flint as the city continues to recover from its water crisis.

Flint residents have until the end of this week to agree to be part of a free program to replace lead and galvanized pipes connecting Flint homes to city water mains.

As of June 18, contractors inspected 27,092 service lines. 10,041 lead and galvanized pipes have been replaced.

The city expects to complete the last of the inspections and replacements under the program by the end of the year. 

There are however hundreds of  service lines the city has not been able to inspect because property owners have either not responded to requests from the city or who have declined to give contractors permission to inspect their service lines. 

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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