Jeannie Purchase and Kathryn Little present their Flint Water Educational Outreach work from Spring Break ’17 at VT Engage Poster Showcase, win 1st prize

Read about the outreach work done by the Flint team where they reached 1000+ Flint kids during the 2017 Spring Break.

Inspiring the Next Generation of Citizen Scientists: Flint Water Educational Outreach — Jeannie and Katie’s poster (click on the poster for a high-res image)

 

Katie and Jeannie with their poster

University of Michigan and Virginia Tech Students Spend Spring Break in Flint, MI Classrooms: Discuss Science of Flint Water Crisis

As an alternative to traditional spring break, a team of University of Michigan (UM) and Virginia Tech (VT) students/faculty spent March 4-11 engaged in Flint, MI classrooms — spreading a positive message about scientific thinking, citizen science, and the everyday heroism of Flint residents. Flint resident Ellie Jacques (Ellievate) played a major role in coordinating this effort, and we were joined by Flint hero-Mom LeeAnne Walters and her daughter Kaylie.

During the week the team connected with nearly 1000 students in grades pre-K to 12th grade at the following Flint schools: Hamady High School, Hamady Middle School, Durant-Tuuri-Mott Elementary School, Neithercut Elementary School, Doyle-Ryder Elementary, Way Academy, Boys and Girls Club of Greater Flint, Genesee Career Institute, Grand Blanc Academy, Holmes STEM Academy, Flint Children’s Museum, Genesee Early College, and Mott Middle College.

Each visit was started with a presentation (Figures 1 a and 1b), followed by small breakout groups with students engaging in at least 5 hands-on experimental modules that included: 1) What you cannot see in your water can hurt you, 2) What boiling does and does not do, 3) The importance of pipes to civilization and health, 4) Why is free chlorine important and how to measure it, 5) The importance of corrosion control, 6) How iron corrosion can help Legionella grow (see Figures 2 a – j).

Figure 1 (a) – Each visit started with a presentation (shown here: William Rhoads and LeeAnne at Doyle-Ryder)
Figure 1 (b) – Each visit started with a presentation (shown here: William Rhoads at Genesee Early College)
Figure 2 (a) – Group presentations and breakouts between Flint students and graduate researchers from University of Michigan and VT.

Figure 2 (c) – Group presentations and breakouts between Flint students and graduate researchers from University of Michigan and VT.
Figure 2 (d) – Group presentations and breakouts between Flint students and graduate researchers from University of Michigan and VT.
Figure 2 (e) – Group presentations and breakouts between Flint students and graduate researchers from University of Michigan and VT.
Figure 2 (f) – Group presentations and breakouts between Flint students and graduate researchers from University of Michigan and VT.
Figure 2 (g) – Group presentations and breakouts between Flint students and graduate researchers from University of Michigan and VT.
Figure 2 (h) – Group presentations and breakouts between Flint students and graduate researchers from University of Michigan and VT.
Figure 2 (i) – Group presentations and breakouts between Flint students and graduate researchers from University of Michigan and VT.
Figure 2 (j) – Group presentations and breakouts between Flint students and graduate researchers from University of Michigan and VT.

Each evening we returned to the Firestone Center where Steve Wolbert of SIPI hosted us and two other alternative spring break groups for dinner. Steve invited everyday Flint heroes to join us to discuss the importance of volunteering, the Flint community, and to help us digest and reflect on our day to get the most out of this experience. One night students also heard the Flint water crisis story and discussed citizen science with Curt Guyette (ACLU Michigan), LeeAnne and Dr. Mona (Figure 3). Each day after dinner, we discussed what “worked” and what “did not work” to constantly adapt our interactions with Flint students so they got the most out of each session (Figures 4a and 4b).”  Funding for the trip came from the University of Michigan Borchardt-Glysson Water Treatment Innovation Prize.

Figure 3 – Meeting Curt, Dr. Mona, and LeeAnne at the Firestone Center for dinner
Figure 4 (a) – Discussing strategy for the presentations and breakout sessions
Figure 4 (b) – Discussing strategy for the presentations and breakout sessions

University of Michigan students who participated were Maddy Wax, Jacob Kvasnicka, Cindy Yao, Jacob Kvasnicka, Nicole Rockey, Jenine McKoy, Grace van Velden, Catherine Wilhelm, James Yonts and Raghav Reddy, and UM faculty included Lutgarde Raskin and Terri Olsen. VT students included Kathryn Little, Anurag Mantha, Christina Devine, William Rhoads, Cassandra Hockman, Margaret Carolan, Kristine Mapili, Maddie Brouse, Jeannie Purchase, Ethan Edwards and Matthew Dowdle.

Figure 5 – Much of the UM-VT team on the last day of the week.

Thanks to everyone who helped us have this great experience!

Main author: Dr. Marc Edwards

Chlorine residuals in Flint: Continued improvements

Flint residents have been asking, “Since the automated flushing stopped in November, have chlorine levels dropped because the water is not moving through the system as quickly?” 

The expectation is “No.”  Cold weather improves nearly all aspects of water quality, because lower temperatures reduce corrosion rates, slow bacteria growth, and stabilize chlorine disinfectant levels in water. On the basis of our experience with dozens of water systems in cold northern states, chlorine residuals tend to be highest in the winter and bacteria levels lowest.

To examine this question for Flint we provide two datasets.

The first is my own chlorine data collected at 3 am from my home away from home in Flint (i.e., LeeAnne Walters’ house).  Yes, I also take baths in Flint water while I am there — thankfully I have never had a problem with the rashes that afflict some residents. This house has one of the worst problems getting a chlorine residual that I have ever seen.  In summer 2015 to spring 2016, we could not get any detectable chlorine in this house, even if I ran the water continuously (Figure 1).  But in August 2016 (with flushing), or January 18, 2017 (without flushing), chlorine levels were in a satisfactory range, especially considering that the data is from a 3 am sample.  In our experience, 3 am is the worst case because that is the time of least water use across a city. This house had an automated flusher right next to it in August 2016, so it would be expected to show amongst the greatest differences with and without flushing.

Figure 1. Free chlorine at Flint house at 3 am. (Note: For the Feb 2016, chlorine was non-detectable at both midnight and 6 am, and was therefore assumed to be zero at 3 am).

Heterotrophic aerobic bacteria levels have also plummeted at this house.  The recent levels in August 2016 and January 2017 were undetectable to ≈ 500 cfu/mL, compared to the very high levels we found in August 2015 of ≈ 500,000 cfu/mL or moderately high levels in February 2016 of ≈ 7,000 cfu/mL.

The second set of data was collected by EPA from all of their standard distribution system monitoring sites located around Flint, and they were kind enough to share it with me. I made a histogram graph (Figure 2) to compare a hot month (Aug 2016) with the automated flushing on (red line) versus early December 2016 after flushing had been turned off for several weeks.  Put simply, the recent data from December shows much higher chlorine without flushing, compared to chlorine residual data from August with automated flushing. The average chlorine has increased from 0.83 mg/L in August 2016 (with automated flushing) to 1.3 mg/L in December 2016 (without automated flushing). The key reason is that temperature dropped from 23 down to 12° C.  Because temperatures have been getting even colder since,  things should continue to improve.

 

Figure 2. Free chlorine monitoring data from the Flint water system in August 2016 (n = 161) with automated flushing, compared to December 2016 (Dec 1-20) when automated flushing was turned off (n = 54). Chlorine levels are much higher in cold weather, even when automated flushing is turned off.

The EPA and the State will keep monitoring the situation closely. Bacteria levels were dramatically improved in Summer 2016 versus Summer 2015 based on our monitoring. If automated flushing is adopted again in summer 2017, even more improvements in chlorine and bacteria levels are possible.

In Flint MI and elsewhere, the “good news” that higher chlorine brings in terms of controlling potentially harmful bacteria, also brings “bad news” in the form of aesthetic problems.  Chlorine can irritate skin and smells like….well, chlorine. Given the trends in data above, Flint residents now perceive that chlorine levels are higher than they have been historically. That is not just a perception– that is a reality.  In general, chlorine in Flint, has historically been lower than is desired, and also lower than is common in many other cities. Now that chlorine levels are returning to levels considered normal and desirable for bacteria control, Flint residents are noting the change.

What can be done to reduce the irritation due to chlorine, which is one of the most common consumer complaints about drinking water nationally? The state provided lead filters do remove chlorine taste from the water which is used for cooking or drinking. If the chlorine is causing irritation in the shower, inexpensive shower filters do exist that can help although we do not officially recommend such filters, because they could potentially grow some harmful bacteria in a shower device designed to create aerosols that could increase human health risks. We consider purchase of such shower filters to be a personal choice.  Whole house filters can also remove chlorine, but this potentially allows harmful bacteria to grow throughout the entire volume of the building plumbing system.

Primary Author: Dr. Marc Edwards

Acknowledgements: Siddhartha Roy

Reflections on the Flint Water Heater Sampling Trip (June 2016)

For two weeks at the end of June, the Flint Water Study Team led a sampling effort which included a 14 person “sampling team,” which traveled to Flint, MI to collect samples, and an 8 person “lab team,” that stayed behind to process the samples. The purpose of this study was to look for the presence of Legionella bacteria in the homes of Flint residents – especially in the water heaters and hot water taps – located near the McLaren and Hurley Hospitals. We also wanted to determine if a simple water heater flushing protocol could be used to improve hot water quality. During the effort we sampled kitchen and bathroom taps, water heater drain valves, and cold flushed water from the distribution system at a total of 32 homes.

When the students were not knee deep in sampling, they got a chance to explore the Flint community. One of the community helpers with Orchard Children Services, Mr. Ronnie Russel, took the team to Bertson Field House to get a great lesson on Flint history from Mr. Bryant “BB” Nolden, a community hero. The team watched the weekly community baseball game, along with some delicious barbeque chicken and popsicles (thanks Mr. Ronnie). The students appreciated the good people, food, and music in preparation for another week of sampling.

Although sampling is over, the residents, plumbers, and volunteers we were able to connect with will never be forgotten. We would like to give a big thanks to all of the homeowners who volunteered in this effort. We’d also like to thank all the volunteers from Orchard Children Services and the plumbers who helped us every step along the way. This study could not have been conducted without them. Finally, we have to give a huge thank you to MDEQ for helping us with scheduling and for providing residents with answers to any questions they had.

We’re working on getting this data processed right now, and will post a summary as soon as we have it. Stay tuned!

Primary Author: Taylor N. Bradley

Acknowledgements: William Rhoads