Flint Misleads Residents on Its Progress Toward Safe Drinking Water

Thousands of hazardous lead pipes likely remain for removal.
Flint’s mayor, Karen Weaver, at a news conference about the city’s lead pipe replacement progress, December 4, 2018
Credit: WDIV

Thousands of hazardous lead pipes likely remain for removal.

The mayor of Flint, Michigan, made statements today that mischaracterized the city’s progress in replacing lead service lines—another controversy in their now years-long drinking water crisis.

Mayor Karen Weaver announced this morning that the city has now examined more than 18,000 service lines—the estimated number of pipes that would need to be excavated and replaced under a 2017 legal settlement with NRDC and partners. But more than 80 percent of the homes examined this year were those with copper pipes—not the hazardous lead and steel ones known to pose serious health risks. “It’s the number of lead pipes removed that matters, not the number of holes dug,” says Pastor Allen C. Overton, a member of Concerned Pastors for Social Action, a plaintiff in the Flint lawsuit.

According to the 2017 settlement, the city must target homes that are most likely to have lead and steel pipes. But the City is failing to do so. So far, just 7,700 lead and steel service lines have been replaced; this leaves an estimated thousands of hazardous pipes still in the ground. The deadline for the city to remove Flint’s lead and steel pipes is 2020. “While much progress has been made over the past two years, the city is well aware that it has not yet fulfilled its obligations under the Concerned Pastors settlement,” says Dimple Chaudhary, a senior attorney at NRDC. “We fought for an agreement that requires the city to get the lead pipes out, not just dig holes.”

Beginning in 2014, when the city decided to switch to a new drinking water supply to save money, Flint residents began complaining of dark-colored, foul-tasting, and bad-smelling water, as well as skin rashes and hair loss. Tests later confirmed unsafe levels of lead in the water, thanks to corrosive water and aging pipes. Some 9,000 children, who are particularly sensitive to lead and its health effects, may have been exposed to contaminated water for more than a year.

A lawsuit brought by NRDC and its partners in 2016 resulted in a settlement in March 2017, in which city and state officials agreed to replace the lead service lines and institute an effective lead-monitoring system. “The city needs to finish the job of finding and replacing the lead pipes in Flint,” says Pastor Overton, “as our agreement demands that they do.”

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