Flint Water Crisis: Everything You Need to Know

After officials repeatedly dismissed claims that Flint’s water was making people sick, residents took action. Here’s how the lead contamination crisis unfolded—and what we can learn from it.

Beyond Flint

Far more than pipes were corroded during the Flint water crisis. City, state, and federal missteps also destroyed residents’ trust in government agencies. Even if studies indicate Flint’s water is safe, it’s tough to expect its families to drink a glass of tap water without fear.

Fortunately, a majority of Americans have access to safe water, a luxury most of us probably enjoy with little thought. But Flint serves as a reminder that safe water isn’t a guarantee. A recent NRDC analysis found thousands of community water systems have violated federal drinking water laws, including the Lead and Copper Rule, which provides safeguards against lead. Meanwhile, there are many contaminants that aren’t even monitored or regulated, such as perchlorate (a component of rocket fuel) and PFOA/PFOS/PFAS (chemical cousins of Teflon).

To protect our water supplies, it is crucial that we upgrade our nationwide water infrastructure, prioritizing the replacement of an estimated 6.1 million lead service pipes. Strengthening existing government protections, including the Lead and Copper Rule, is also critical. Michigan is now leading the way, strengthening the state Lead and Copper Rule to require that all lead service lines be replaced within 20 years, among other provisions. Though not without flaws, the rule now gives the state the strongest lead drinking water protections in the country.

If you are concerned about your own drinking water, take a look at your water utility’s annual water quality report (also called a consumer confidence report), which is usually posted online and is required to disclose if contaminants have been found in your water. If contaminants have reached dangerous levels, the water supplier is required to send customers public notification. The EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Information System also maintains information about public water systems and their violations. You can go one step farther by having your water tested, either by your water supplier (which may provide this service for free) or by a certified lab.

If you discover your water is contaminated, one option is to use NSF-certified water filters that are designed to eliminate specific contaminants. It is most important, though, that you notify your water utility. If necessary, you can also contact your elected officials, your state’s drinking water program, or the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline (800-426-4791).

As NRDC President Rhea Suh noted at the height of the crisis, “When it comes to providing public services, few things are more fundamental than clean drinking water. What happened to the people of Flint should never have happened. Let’s make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Northeast Dispatch

The state now requires its public schools to test their drinking water for lead. But few districts have made it clear how they’re addressing the troubles at their taps.

NRDC in Action

These four NRDC lawyers would finish each other’s thoughts—at any odd hour of the day or night—in their quest to help victims of the city’s lead crisis.

On Location

Partnering with NRDC and ACLU, residents of this Michigan city took their local government to court in a battle for safe drinking water.

Q&A

Both problems pose significant health risks, but many people grappling with them can’t afford major renovations—and can’t move out. NRDC attorney Albert Huang shows us the range of solutions to consider.

Personal Action

Any lead exposure is unsafe, but levels of the toxic metal in the Newark, New Jersey, water supply are nearly twice the federal action level. Here’s what to do if this crisis affects you.

onEarth Story

Vague regulations let government officials hide drinking water contamination from the public.

The residents of Flint, Michigan, will finally get their lead pipes replaced and have access to safe drinking water. Here's what you need to know.

Midwest Dispatch

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Guide

Our rivers, reservoirs, lakes, and seas are drowning in chemicals, waste, plastic, and other pollutants. Here’s why―and what you can do to help.

Explainer

America is facing its second lead crisis. This time around, the effects are less obvious, but no less worrying.

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