Federal officials warned Flint residents Friday that water samples from more than two dozen locations have higher lead levels than can be treated by filters that have been widely distributed to deal with the city’s contamination crisis, underscoring the need for all residents to have their water tested.
Dr. Nicole Lurie of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said the lead level in some Flint locations has exceeded 150 parts per billion, which is the level for which water filters are graded. In one case, it was in the thousands. She said people with levels over 150 ppb were being notified and their water being retested.
“We aren’t completely sure why” the readings are so high, Lurie said. “It could be the way the samples were collected. . We'll be doing more testing this whole weekend and early next week to figure out why and exactly what that means.”
Tests began in the last week in December, and 26 sites out of about 4,000 showed the higher levels. The water was tested by officials before it got to a filter, and Lurie stressed that the results do not mean officials think there’s a problem with the filters.
“We still have confidence in the filters,” said Mark Durno of the EPA. “If you have not had your water tested, get it tested now.”
Officials stressed that pregnant women and children under 6 at the sites with the elevated lead levels should only drink and prepare food with bottled water. How many people in the city who have been using the tap water, even with filters, is unclear.
“Obviously, if you’ve already gotten a test back and it’s under 150 and you’ve been told your water is safe, continue to use the filters, OK,” Lurie said “But, to be clear: If you don’t know, let’s act out of an abundance of caution.”
Improperly treated water leached lead from pipes into drinking water after Flint switched from Detroit’s water system to the Flint River in 2014 to save money while under state financial management. Some children’s blood has tested positive for lead, which has been linked to learning disabilities, lower IQ and behavioral problems. Flint has reconnected to Detroit’s system for now.
Flint residents have been told to drink only filtered or bottled water because of the lead contamination in the city’s supply. County health officials had declared a public health emergency Oct. 1, and the next day Gov. Rick Snyder announced $1 million for home water filters.
Marc Edwards, the Virginia Tech expert who had a critical role in uncovering the lead problem last year, said he’s not surprised by the high readings.
“They were without corrosion control for 18 months,” he said, referring to Flint River water. “The system is still recovering.”
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder had earlier in the day signed into law $28 million more in emergency funding, and said he didn’t know some state workers in the city had received bottled water last year while officials were still telling residents that tap water was safe to drink.
The latest state funding is intended to pay for bottled water, faucet filters, testing kits, additional school nurses, medical treatment and to help the city with unpaid water bills. There also is funding to hire outside experts to assess whether Flint’s water system infrastructure must be replaced or repaired.
It’s the second round of state aid for the city since the crisis was confirmed in the fall, bringing the total allocated to nearly $39 million. The Republican governor said the funding will provide immediate resources in Flint, but is not the end of state assistance.
It’s time to stand up and recognize that things could have been done differently. Mistakes were made. … We’re going to solve them.
Gov Rick Snyder
“It’s time to stand up and recognize that things could have been done differently,” Snyder said before signing the aid legislation. “Mistakes were made. … We’re going to solve them.”
Snyder has accepted responsibility for the emergency while also blaming state and federal environmental regulators, some of whom have resigned or have been suspended. But he remains the target of criticism, including longshot efforts to recall him from office. In pledging again to fix the problem, he said, “how do you learn from things that didn’t go right to be even stronger and better for the long term?”
Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, a Flint Democrat, said the announcement about the high lead readings showed that having federal officials involved in Flint has led to “a more transparent and effective response.”
“Many questions still remain regarding the state’s ability to manage this crisis and only highlights the need for a continued and amplified federal role,” Ananich said in a statement.
News that employees at a state building in Flint had received fresh bottled water came Thursday in emails released by Progress Michigan, a liberal group critical of Snyder.
Snyder said Friday he had “no knowledge of that taking place.”
The governor’s spokesman Dave Murray said the water was for both employees and visitors to the building, which includes the Department of Health and Human Services, starting in January 2015. He said he didn’t know if workers promoted that it was available.
Murray said one water cooler was placed on each floor and next to public drinking fountains. Water was provided until the summer, he said, and then returned in October after a public health emergency was declared. Another state spokesman said earlier it was provided continuously in the building.
The coolers were introduced after Flint officials warned residents about elevated levels of a disinfection byproduct called trihalomethane in the city’s water. The city notified water customers at the time that it was in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act but described the water as safe to drink.