Water Is Life Blog

Top Ten Lessons from the Flint Age

Feb 15, 2016

The story of lead poisoning from water pollution in Flint Michigan has dominated the news cycles. Cover story on Time Magazine (Feb. 2016), Rachel Maddow, cable and network TV news, public radio. We’ve all been familiarized with the unfolding tragedy.   Because so many people have been affected, this may be the biggest water pollution story ever, bigger than Woburn, Love Canal, Milwaukee, Camp Lejeune, Gold King Mining spill, Charleston WVa and so many more.

Rather than repeat facts that are already well-known, I wanted to share some of the lessons we can all learn from what happened and is still unfolding:

  1. Flint is not just a health issue. It has a political dimension (who knew and did what and when?). It has an economic dimension (Flint is 40% poor and under-represented). It has a racial dimension (Flint is mostly African American). And of course it is an environmental issue.
  2. It is a crisis in confidence. People have lost confidence in the EPA and the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) who were supposed to protect them. Many citizens say they will not trust their tap water ever again, even if the lead pipes are replaced and the water is properly treated.
  3. There were other pollutants besides lead. Before the lead issue was even recognized in Flint, there had been high levels of E Coli bacteria. A boil order was issued. That was followed by high levels of chlorination which caused dangerous levels of cancer-causing disinfection byproducts. Also, legionnaires disease caused by Flint water has resulted in more than 80 diagnosed cases and nine deaths.
  4. Pollution alerts have a lag time. Between the time Flint started using water from the Flint River and the time authorities alerted citizens of the high levels of lead, people had been drinking this polluted water for 17 months. In most cases around the country, contamination is first reported long after it has occurred. In many cases there is a significant lag time between when it is discovered and when the water authorities own up to it.
  5. There is no safe level of lead. Although EPA sets 15 parts per billion as the “action” level for lead, health authorities recognize that zero is the only safe level. Lead is a neurotoxin that binds to bones and tissue and lead toxicity is permanent and irreversible, threatening not only to children and pregnant and nursing women but to all humans.
  6. Lead pipes are a national threat. There are literally millions of miles of aging lead pipes up to 100 years old buried under many cities and towns. To make matters worse, there is sometimes lead solder in household pipes and even lead in faucets and plumbing fixtures. The real problem is our nation’s aging INFRASTRUCTURE, and that will only get worse over time. This is not just a Flint problem.
  7. Boiling water does not remove lead. Many people cook with tap water because they think boiling removes lead. It doesn’t. When you cook it just concentrates the lead, making it worse.
  8. Bottled water is not a long term solution. Bottled water is expensive, inconvenient and may introduce BPA and other plasticizers into the water . It is a disaster for the environment because only 14% of the bottles get recycled and the rest will last for hundreds or thousands of years in landfills, dumps, rivers and oceans. Bottled water is not regulated or tested as much as tap water, so there is no assurance of purity.
  9. Cheap faucet mounted faucets are inadequate. This is an inexpensive short term fix. Michigan is distributing thousands of these $20 systems to citizens. They have low flow rates, only remove a few contaminants and need to be changed every 100 gallons at some expense (more than 25 cents/ gallon). Most homes will not service these in a timely way so their effectiveness with lead will be compromised.
  10. Multipure is the answer. Of course the lead pipes should be dug up and replaced, but it will take years and millions if not billions of dollars just to replace the lead pipes in Flint. Whether you live in Flint or anywhere else in the country, doesn’t it make sense to be proactive and invest in Multipure’s solid carbon block filter? It is NSF certified to take out lead and over 100 contaminants and requires only one filter change per year (750 gallons per filter). This means 9 cents a gallon.  Multipure is the best water insurance money can buy.