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Call for Resignation Amid Water Woes

Monday, October 26, 2015

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A corroded drinking water supply crisis in Flint, MI, has one group asking for the resignation of the state's environmental director and others demanding further investigation into the matter.

Meanwhile, residents in the city are adapting to yet another change in their water supply source after the city decided to switch back to Detroit water systems rather than continue to pull its own water from the Flint River.

The Rev. David A. Bullock, an outspoken member of the nonprofit group Change Agent Consortium, called Wednesday (Oct. 21) for the resignation of Dan Wyant during a meeting with the director of the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) about the Flint water supply issue, according to Michigan Live.

“He definitely heard us out,” said Bullock, who is a Detroit-area pastor. “He was able to hear from us, and that was important.

DavidAlexanderBullock.com

The Rev. David A. Bullock, an outspoken member of Change Agent Consortium, has called for DEQ director Dan Wyant to resign.

“We were able to hear the plan going forward, and we were able to raise the question of his resigning.”

Water Source Concerns

Earlier this year, the nonprofit group had donated 500 cases of water to Flint families as the city was battling high levels of trihalomethanes (TTHM) in the city’s water supply. Flint had switched its water source from Detroit—which draws water from Lake Huron—to the Flint River in April 2014.

But doctors and researchers discovered that the river water was far more corrosive than the water that came from the lake, according to the news website. As a result, it picked up lead more quickly when it reached lead service lines than when the city was using water from The Great Lakes.

A Hurley Medical Center study determined that blood levels of lead in children and infants tripled in parts of the city after the water supply was switched, the news report said. Flint switched back its potable water supply to the Detroit water system on Oct. 16.

By Andrew Jameson / CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Increased lead and iron levels were found in Flint after the city switched from Lake Huron water to the Flint River, which researchers say is far more corrosive.

Wyant acknowledged earlier last week that the agency had made mistakes when it used the wrong federal standards to treat the Flint River for more than 17 months, Michigan Live reported. The director of DEQ also said he was replacing his top municipal drinking water official as a result of the oversight mistakes.

On Thursday (Oct. 22), Wyant responded to media requests for comment in light of the request for his resignation.

“I serve at the pleasure of the administration,” said Wyant. “I believe the governor will gather all the facts and make the right decision at the appropriate time.

“Until then, we at the DEQ are singularly focused on implementing the state’s plan to address lead issues in Flint and protect kids and families there.”

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder had announced Wednesday (Oct. 21) that he had created a task force to review “actions regarding water use and testing in Flint,” according to a Michigan Live report that day. The task force includes Dr. Lawrence Reynolds of Mott Children’s Hospital, who was one of the health officials in Flint who first warned about the increasing lead levels after the water supply changed.

Studying the Corrosion

As previously reported, problems with the Flint water supply have been making news headlines for most of the past year. In September, a professor at Virginia Tech announced that he and 17 others had received a $50,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study the Flint water supply.

The grant came from the NSF’s Rapid Response Research program that is given to projects considered to be a “severe urgency,” reports said. The professor noted that the federal Environmental Protection Agency also was sending people to Michigan because of the high levels of lead and iron being discovered since Flint switched its tap supply.

But at that time, the government—and more specifically, DEQ officials—were urging people to continue to consume the Flint water because it did not propose a danger. The DEQ has since changed its stance on the issue.

Michigan DEQ

DEQ's Dan Wyant has said that Flint had been teating its water supply for corrosion after switching to the Flint River, despite earlier statements indicating it had not.

On Oct. 2, according to a Michigan Radio report, Wyant said the City of Flint had been treating its water supply for corrosion despite statements earlier this year saying that it had not.

“Know that when the city switched from Detroit sewer and water, that the city utilized corrosion controls,” he said.

The report said that a DEQ spokesman further clarified the director’s statements after a press conference.

“Flint was trying to address the hardness of the water, so they chose lime to address the hardness,” said DEQ spokesman Brad Wurfel.

“That is also a corrosion control agent. It’s a recognized corrosion control agent. It just wasn't, it wasn’t cutting it.”

Downward-Trending pH

Data from the City of Flint indicated that the pH of treated water leaving the plant was trending downward from 8.07 in December 2014 to 7.34 in August of this year, according to the public radio report.

To the experts Michigan Public Radio interviewed, those numbers indicated a trend to water becoming more acidic.

“Even as they’re denying the water is corrosive and it’s causing this higher lead, the pH value is plummeting, it’s becoming more acidic,” said Marc Edward, the civil engineering professor who achieved the NFS grant to study the Flint issue. “And it led me to wonder, I mean, are they even watching what’s happening to the pH of their water? It’s like flying a jumbo jet without checking your gas tank.”

Previous reports indicate that out of the 300 sample kits sent to Flint area homeowners as part of the study, 277 were returned to Virginia Tech—a return rate of 90 percent, Edwards said.

©iStock.com / deyangeorgiev

Data indicates that Flint water became more acidic as time went on, and at least one of the test kits returned to Virginia Tech showed three times the acceptable level of lead.

The samples showed high levels of lead even in relatively low-risk homes. That was contradictory of what government reports were indicating at the time.

In the home of a child who already had lead discovered in the blood, the lead levels averaged 2,000 parts per billion after 20 minutes of flushing. That is 200 times higher than the World Health Organization allows in potable water, said Edwards.

Calls for Action

Meanwhile, the nonprofit group isn’t the only voice calling for a change. U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, of Flint Township, has asked the federal EPA to investigate what led to Flint’s unsafe drinking water, according to a Thursday (Oct. 22) Michigan Radio report.

“The City of Flint residents should not be handed the bill for this massive failure of government at the state level and potentially at the federal level as well,” Kildee reportedly wrote to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

Michigan Live also indicated that state Sen. Jim Ananich, of Flint, sought an EPA review the same day as Kildee wrote his letter to McCarthy and Gov. Snyder announced his task force.

   

Tagged categories: Clean Water Act; Environmental Control; Environmental Controls; Environmental Protection; Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Government; Lead; non-potable water; North America; Pipes; potable water

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (10/26/2015, 9:01 AM)

Idiots. Dropping the pH like that will destabilize the protective scale on the lead pipes. Well known to water supply people. The Flint 2015 water quality report from Veolia basically says that everything is great, except for aesthetics. It's an incredibly barebones report - the one I get from my city has actual details on tested levels of heavy metals and other items of concern.


Comment from M. Halliwell, (10/26/2015, 11:15 AM)

Tom, I agree...probably an issue with deposits and scale destabilization. As for Professor Edward's "corrosive" comment I'm surprised someone hasn't been complaining about how "caustic" the dihydrogen oxide is, with a pH over 8 and all (a water pH of 7 is "neutral", with lower pH being acidic and higher being basic or caustic). I think someone needs to get their act together in the water processing and someone else needs to deal with the PR nightmare.


Comment from peter gibson, (10/26/2015, 2:20 PM)

They are backward in all areas up there. Nothing new here.


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