Researchers: Flint's water recovery moving slowly

Researchers: Flint's water recovery moving slowly

The efforts to repair the drinking water system in Flint, Mich., are proceeding more slowly than they could be, Virginia Tech researchers said Tuesday.

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Marc Edwards, an engineering professor at the university who first discovered the extent of Flint’s lead contamination last year, said the water is getting better but remains unsafe to drink.

Edwards said one big problem is that some Flint residents are using less water than they normally would, because it is contaminated. That is slowing down the delivery of the water additives that are rescaling the corroded lead pipes.

“What we discovered was that many Flint residents are, not surprisingly, not using very much water,” Edwards said Tuesday at a Virginia Tech event rolling out the results of tests he and his team conducted in March.

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“The delivery of the cure, which is this clean water that needs to flow through the system, in some Flint homes, is simply not happening.”

Edwards’s research found that water in 15 percent of homes tested in the city exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) threshold — 15 micrograms per liter of water — for mandatory action.

That’s down from the 19 percent found in August.

“There’s no doubt the system is in much, much better shape than it was in 2015, in terms of lead levels, consumer complaints about red water and also iron levels in the water,” he said. “And the system is definitely on its path to recovery, but we’ve got to get more water flowing through the system to enhance that.”

Edwards recommended that Flint residents continue to use bottled water or lead filters.

Under state supervision, the city changed its water supply to the Flint River in 2014 as a cost-saving move. But the water wasn't properly treated to travel through lead pipes, and the toxic metal leached into the supply.

Robert Kaplan, the acting EPA administrator for the Great Lakes region, said last week that Flint’s water system is still “unstable” but recovering, according to the Detroit News.

The EPA considers a water system to be compliant with lead standards when homes at the 90th percentile of lead contamination have under 15 micrograms of per liter.

Edwards’s March testing found that those homes were at 23 micrograms per liter, down from 29 in August.

One home, Edwards’s team said, had more than 2,000 micrograms per liter in the March testing.