As of April 2016, the Flint, Michigan, drinking-water crisis continued to focus nationwide attention on problems of lead in public water systems. The problem in Flint began in 2014 when the city changed its source of water and began providing water that turned out to be highly corrosive, leaching lead from plumbing into household water.
Throughout spring 2016, a team of researchers from Virginia Tech was continuing to work on and report about the situation, and their work played a significant role in bringing to light drinking water contamination in Flint. In fact, in April 2016, Time magazine named Dr. Marc Edwards, the leader of the Virginia Tech team, and Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a Michigan pediatrician who documented high blood lead levels in Flint children, as two of its 100 Most Influential People for the current year. Information about the Virginia Tech team’s work, along with a list of related news articles and other resources, is available online at http://flintwaterstudy.org/; the contact e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org; see also Persistent Virginia Tech researchers exposed problems with Flint water, Roanoke Times, 1/28/16; Virginia Tech Researchers Fought for Flint in Water Crisis, Roanoke Times, 1/23/16.
On March 21, 2016, the Flint Water Advisory Task Force, appointed by Michigan Governor. Rick Snyder, issued a 116-page report, available online at http://flintwaterstudy.org/. Here is the Summary Statement from that report:
“The Flint water crisis is a story of government failure, intransigence, unpreparedness, delay, inaction, and environmental injustice. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) failed in its fundamental responsibility to effectively enforce drinking water regulations. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) failed to adequately and promptly act to protect public health. Both agencies, but principally the MDEQ, stubbornly worked to discredit and dismiss others’ attempts to bring the issues of unsafe water, lead contamination, and increased cases of Legionellosis (Legionnaires’ disease) to light. With the City of Flint under emergency management, the Flint Water Department rushed unprepared into full -time operation of the Flint Water Treatment Plant, drawing water from a highly corrosive source without the use of corrosion control. Though MDEQ was delegated primacy (authority to enforce federal law), the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) delayed enforcement of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and Lead and Copper Rule (LCR), thereby prolonging the calamity. Neither the Governor nor the Governor’s office took steps to reverse poor decisions by MDEQ and state-appointed emergency managers until October 2015, in spite of mounting problems and suggestions to do so by senior staff members in the Governor’s office, in part because of continued reassurances from MDEQ that the water was safe. The significant consequences of these failures for Flint will be long-lasting. They have deeply affected Flint’s public health, its economic future, and residents’ trust in government. The Flint water crisis occurred when state-appointed emergency managers replaced local representative decision-making in Flint, removing the checks and balances and public accountability that come with public decision-making. Emergency managers made key decisions that contributed to the crisis, from the use of the Flint River to delays in reconnecting to DWSD once water quality problems were encountered. Given the demographics of Flint, the implications for environmental injustice cannot be ignored or dismissed. The Flint water crisis is also a story, however, of something that did work: the critical role played by engaged Flint citizens, by individuals both inside and outside of government who had the expertise and willingness to question and challenge government leadership, and by members of a free press who used the tools that enable investigative journalism. Without their courage and persistence, this crisis likely never would have been brought to light and mitigation efforts never begun.”
On April 15, 2016, Gov. Snyder proposed that Michigan implement new state regulations on lead and copper, including a 10 part per billion (ppb) action level for lead in drinking water, which would be lower than the federally mandated action level of 15 ppb. The proposed changes would also strengthen testing requirements. Michigan Governor Proposes Tighter Rules on Lead in Water in Wake of Flint Crisis; State regulations would be stronger than federal standards, require adoption of lead pipe removal plans within 10 years, Wall Street Journal, 4/15/16.
For an overview of the situation, its history, and its public-health impacts, see Toxic water crisis poisons public trust in Flint, PBS NewsHour, 1/20/16 (11 min/12 sec. video, with online transcript).
Other media accounts for later developments include the following:
Congress grills Michigan governor, EPA head over Flint water crisis, PBS NewsHour, 3/17/16 (12 min/25 sec. video, with online transcript; Virginia Tech’s Dr. Marc Edwards, leader of the research team working in Flint, is interviewed in this report).
Flint Water Crisis Inquiry Finds State Ignored Warning Signs, New York Times, 3/23/16.
EPA launching new water infrastructure effort after Flint, The Hill, 4/26/16
Following are some other sources of information about the Flint situation:
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Flint Drinking Water Documents,” online at http://www.epa.gov/mi/flint-drinking-water-documents.
U.S. EPA, “Flint Safe Drinking Water Task Force,” online at https://www.epa.gov/flint/flint-safe-drinking-water-task-force.
State of Michigan, “Taking Action on Flint Water,” online at http://www.michigan.gov/flintwater.
Detroit Free Press articles on Flint water, online at http://www.freep.com/search/Flint%20Water/.
Some news articles on Virginia responses to the Flint situation are the following:
Special Report: Uncovering Flint-Could it happen here?, WAVY Hampton Roads, 4/7/16.
Virginia Tech researchers: Flint-like problems also present in Virginia wells, Roanoke Times, 4/10/16.