Objective: In response to the possible public health problems and infrastructure degradation that is occuring in the City of Flint, we organized a field trip for extensive sampling to better assess water quality concerns. This trip was planned and executed immediately after we finished mailing out 300 lead sampling kits to Flint residents.
Personnel: Our entire team of undergraduate/graduate students and scientists contributed in the time period leading up to the trip. Dr. Marc Edwards, Rebekah Martin, Dr. David “Otto” Schwake, Colin Richards, and Min Tang were the team selected to drive to Flint from Blacksburg VA. Emily Garner spent over 80 hours preparing a comprehensive biological sampling kit to look for OPPPs and bacteria that cause corrosion, while Dr. Jeff Parks and Anurag Mantha led up efforts to equip the FLINTWATERSTUDY van as a mobile lab.
Day 1 (Aug 17 2015)
Our trip to Flint MI from Blacksburg VA took eleven hours after which we made our first stop at Mrs LeeAnne Walters’ house to pick up sample kits supplied by Genesee County Health Department for measuring Escherichia coli and Coliforms. E.coli and coliforms are common (fecal indicator) bacteria and our analyses showed no presence of these in the water. We also tested for chlorine residuals in her tap water and were introduced to her family.
Day 2 (Aug 18 2015)
We spent about five hours sampling at 10 sites, most of which are used by the city for their distribution system monitoring. These included the Flint River, a McDonald’s franchisee next to the water treatment plant, and another eight distribution monitoring sites typically used by the city. We took 1.5 L samples for microbial analyses and 500 mL samples to analyze the water temperature, dissolved oxygen and chlorine residual. These samples were processed immediately in our mobile lab. The purpose of this approach was to gather data on water quality at different points along Flint’s distribution system, and to verify similar data that was being collected by the city on the same day.
We then shipped the biological samples overnight to our Virginia Tech labs in Blacksburg, and submitted the E. coli and coliform samples to the Health Department for analysis in the afternoon. We later had dinner with Flint residents and community leaders, and interviewed them about their experiences with Flint water (to be uploaded).
Day 3 (Aug 19 2015)
We divided ourselves into three groups to maximize sampling. The first group sampled four businesses still on Detroit water, the second sampled four homes that are on Flint water, and the final group sampled two homes where residents had reported health issues. Chlorine levels were also monitored for one place with Detroit water and another with Flint water. We stayed up late to sample what happened to the water at night. The Detroit water had consistent chlorine residual of about 0.5 mg/L whereas the Flint waters had no residuals at 3 am.
We wrapped up sampling around noon, said our goodbyes to Ms. Walters and her family, and set off for the long journey back home.
Primary Authors: Min Tang and Colin Richards
Acknowledgements: Siddhartha Roy, Dr. Marc Edwards