On Tuesday, a new study found that the level of lead in Flint, Michigan’s drinking water is beneath the federal threshold, though residents are still being told to use filtered water. It’s welcome news for a city that has been grappling with one of the worst environmental disasters in US history—but many folks aren’t letting their guard down yet.
Flint’s water crisis was declared a federal emergency last year when Flint children, particularly in the poorest neighborhoods, were found to have elevated blood lead levels (which can cause irreversible brain damage) and 12 deaths were linked to Legionnaires’ disease, a form of pneumonia caused by waterborne bacteria.
In an email to Mayor Karen Weaver, Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality said yesterday that the 90th percentile of lead concentration in Flint’s water—in other words, the lead levels in the most contaminated water samples—has fallen by 12 parts per billion, below the “action level” of 15 ppb. Six months prior, the AP reports, the 90th percentile of lead concentration was 20 ppb.
“This is good news and the result of many partners on the local, county, state and federal levels working together to restore the water quality in the City of Flint,” said MDEQ Director Heidi Grether. “The Flint water system is one of the most monitored systems in the country for lead and copper, and we remain committed to continuing work in Flint as the city recovers.”
The MDEQ letter also outlines an ongoing plan to continue collecting samples and replacing lead pipes, which it said were a “typical source of contaminant.” It’s certainly relieving, but not all residents are convinced that the danger of contaminated drinking water has passed.
“You cannot tell me the water is safe because you have not tested every home,” Flint resident Melissa Mays told the AP. The announcement, Mays says, “means nothing. There’s still lead in the system.”
The contamination crisis in Flint began after the city changed its water source from Lake Huron and the Detroit River to the Flint River, which channeled water to the community via old pipes that reportedly hadn’t been treated with corrosion inhibitors. This improper treatment caused lead to leach from aging pipes into the water supply, affecting an estimated 6,000 to 12,000 children with lead.