[Commentary] When will we be able to say that Flint’s water is “safe” to drink again, and lift the water emergency?

The answer to this question depends on your standard of “safe.” The press secretary for the Governor stated that Flint water was “safe” last week, with the added bizarre acknowledgment that the water flowing into “some” homes will have high lead:

He added that while the water leaving Flint’s drinking water system is safe to drink, “some families with lead plumbing in their homes or service connections could experience higher levels of lead in the water that comes out of their faucets.”

In other words, Flint residents can be assured their water is safe, unless it is not safe. And there is no way to know if your homes water has high lead or not, because testing is not reliable, especially with the protocols that have been used by MDEQ. This does not meet our definition of “safe.”

Of course, to our knowledge MDEQ has never acknowledged that Flint water was unsafe in the first place, and they continue to illustrate their complete ignorance of the problem by blaming every high lead result on bad plumbing. This is an extension of their prior argument that the high lead in Ms. Walters’ home was the fault of her plumbing, which later proved false because EPA found her pipes were all plastic.

For us, we’d be satisfied if Flint was protected by the same law that applies to every other city in the United States of America. That law requires: 1) corrosion control, and 2) monitoring that proves more than 90% of high risk homes sample below the EPA Action Level of 15 ppb. Flint now has a corrosion control plan, but they have not been monitoring according to Federal Rules. Will their next round of monitoring follow Federal Rules? One would hope so. If and when that occurs, and they demonstrate they are under the 15 ppb EPA action level, we believe that a reasonable person could say the water is “safe” and the water emergency could be lifted. Until that time, Flint water cannot be reasonably considered to meet that minimum legal standard.

There is also a strong argument that the current EPA standard of less than 15 ppb in > 90% of homes, does not meet a reasonable modern definition of safety. But that is a larger national debate, and we’ll be satisfied if Flint simply met the existing minimum safeguards.

Primary Author: Dr. Marc Edwards

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