Report: Flint Lead Levels Below Federal Limit; Flint Residents Not Buying It

Photo by Paul Sancya/AP.

Things are looking up for the city of Flint, Michigan, but residents aren’t jumping for joy just yet.

Lead levels in the city ravaged by a crippling water contamination crisis in 2014 tested below the federal limit, Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality announced Tuesday, Jan. 24.

A recent six-month study, conducted between July 1 and Dec. 31, indicated that lead levels in the city’s water were 12 parts per billion or lower in 90 percent of samples taken from homes with lead and copper plumbing. Compared to the 20-ppb levels recorded in the prior six-month period, Flint’s lead levels have vastly improved, coming in at just under the legal federal limit of 15 ppb.

“The remarkable improvement in water quality over the past year is a testament to all levels of government working together and the resilient people of Flint helping us help them,” Gov. Rick Snyder said. “There is still more work to do in Flint, and I remain committed to helping the residents recover and restore their city.”

For the past two years, Flint residents have been forced to rely on filtered and bottled water for everyday tasks, a life-changing consequence of the state’s decision to switch the city’s water supply from Lake Huron to the contaminated Flint River. The corrosive water ate away at Flint’s aging lead pipes, leaching the toxic metal into the city’s drinking water supply. It was months before city and state leaders alerted residents to the widespread contamination, but by that time, the damage had already been done.

Fast forward to 2017, and lead levels are finally down, which is good news for the impacted city. However, the Department of Environmental Quality recommended that Flint residents still “use filtered water for drinking and cooking” while lead pipes are replaced. It is required that the city continue installing new lead service lines until over 2,000 of them are replaced, according to Flint also must continue to monitor and treat its water for corrosive elements.

Despite the good news, the recent lead-level data is nothing more than a false sense of hope for some city residents.

“If it’s been years and I still can’t drink or use the water, then what progress is that?” Tonya Blooming, a Flint resident and mother of three, asked NBC News. “Lead numbers change week to week, and I have a feeling there will be another report later on that will negate this one. It’s happened to me before.”

Melissa Mays, a community activist with grassroots organization Flint Rising, a group aimed at fighting the water contamination crisis, echoed Blooming’s sentiments, pointing out how the numbers in these studies tend to fluctuate.

“These reports are premature and it gives residents and everyone else a false sense of security that things are getting better when they are not,” she said.

The Department of Environmental Quality report comes just a month after the U.S. Senate approved $170 million in federal funding to repair the city’s water system. The legislation provided access to $100 million to upgrade the water system infrastructure, $20 million to activate $200 million in low-interest loans to enhance water infrastructure in communities in Michigan and across the country and $50 million to address the health care needs of children affected by lead exposure, Atlanta Black Star reported.

The guarantee of much-needed aid to Flint was put in jeopardy, however, after President Donald Trump declared a freeze on the Environmental Protection Agency’s external communications, along with all of its contracts and grants. MLive reported that Former President Barack Obama had previously signed a resolution that included $100 million in federal aid specifically for the water crisis. Those allocated funds would then be applied thorough a partnership with the state Department of Environmental Quality and the EPA.

Since the freeze, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality said it had been assured that the $100 million in federal funds for the Flint water crisis would not be frozen.

“The MDEQ appreciates the partnership with the EPA, the state and city of Flint to address the city of Flint’s water infrastructure needs,” C. Heidi Grether, director of the DEQ, wrote in a letter to EPA Administrator Catherine McCabe. “The MDEQ looks forward to the EPA’s assistance with assuring the federal funds are provided to the city of Flint in a timely manner to further improve water quality for their citizens.”

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