Flint Officials Could Have Prevented Lead Crisis for $80 a Day, Broke Federal Law Instead

February 4, 2016   |   Claire Bernish

Claire Bernish
February 4, 2016

(ANTIMEDIA) “It’s outrageous that this sort of government-made catastrophe would happen anywhere in the United States,” Representative Justin Amash said Wednesday as he opened his allotted time period to question a panel before Congress about the lead crisis in Flint, Michigan. “The State of Michigan needs to provide comprehensive assistance to the people of Flint; and the state has the resources, I can assure you that as a former state legislator.”

In his characteristic calm and collected manner, Amash quickly pulled the painful truth from just two members of the decidedly small four-member panel — the lead contamination of the Flint water supply wouldn’t have happened if the city had followed the law.

First, Amash established that while the state spends $33 million on its notorious Pure Michigan advertising campaign, it has only shelled out “$28 million to make sure the people of Flint have pure water.” Without using his name, Amash also noted the“nonsensical” absence from the panel of the “one person probably most culpable in this situation” who “won’t take responsibility for it” — Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.

Keith Creagh, Interim Director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, answered several basic questions from Amash to establish his department’s role in the crisis, noting “it’s highly unusual across this country [for a city] to go from one water source to another.”

Turning to Virginia Tech Environmental and Water Resources Professor and Water Interagency Coordinating Committee member Marc Edwards, the scope of governmental culpability in the Flint lead crisis quickly became clear.

“We know that not enough phosphates were added to the water to make it less corrosive,” Amash began. “What’s the cost of treating the water with the appropriate amount of phosphates?”

“When the switch was made, there was actually no phosphate added at all. No corrosion control. Federal law was not followed,” Edwards stated.

“No phosphates at all?” Amash interrupted.

“Nothing. Had they done the minimum allowable under the law, which would have been to continue the phosphate dosing — which in Detroit water, it would’ve cost $80 to $100 a day.”

Let that sink in. Remember the stated, ostensible purpose for switching the city’s water supply from Detroit’s to that of the Flint River was to save money.

Amash then asked whether Edwards had knowledge of or an opinion about why there were no phosphates added to control the corrosion.“[I]sn’t that a normal step?” he inquired.

Edwards replied:

“It’s the law. You have to have a corrosion control plan, and that’s why we have the law. This disaster would not have occurred if the phosphate would have been added — and that includes the legionella likely outbreak, the red water that you see, the leaks . . . In general, corrosion control, for every dollar you spend on it, you save ten dollars. But in Flint’s situation, for every dollar that they would’ve spent on it, they would’ve easily saved $1,000.

“So, my only explanation is that it probably did start innocently in the chaos of the turnover, and someone simply forgot to follow the law.”

Edwards also explained phosphates weren’t the only method for protecting the people from contamination through corrosion, but the fact remained there had to be a plan, as well as implementation, and Flint dropped the ball.


This article (Flint Officials Could Have Prevented Lead Crisis for $80 a Day, Broke Federal Law Instead) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Claire Bernish and theAntiMedia.org. Anti-Media Radio airs weeknights at 11pm Eastern/8pm Pacific. If you spot a typo, email edits@theantimedia.org.

Author: Claire Bernish

Claire Bernish joined Anti-Media as an independent journalist in May of 2015. Her topics of interest include thwarting war propaganda through education, the refugee crisis & related issues, 1st Amendment concerns, ending police brutality, and general government & corporate accountability. Born in North Carolina, she now lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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9 Comments

  1. Everyone who had knowledge prior to the public's, needs to be prosecuted for terrorism. Other cities, including mine, have high levels of lead. Congress could have passed infrastructure bills, but did not, let's start with them.

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  2. ᴍʏ Fʀɪᴇɴᴅ's ᴍᴏᴍ ᴍᴀᴋᴇs $73 ʜᴏᴜʀʟʏ ᴏɴ ᴛʜᴇ ᴄᴏᴍᴘᴜᴛᴇʀ . Sʜᴇ ʜᴀs ʙᴇᴇɴ ᴏᴜᴛ ᴏғ ᴀ ᴊᴏʙ ғᴏʀ 7 ᴍᴏɴᴛʜs ʙᴜᴛ ʟᴀsᴛ ᴍᴏɴᴛʜ ʜᴇʀ ᴄʜᴇᴄᴋ ᴡᴀs $20864 ᴊᴜsᴛ ᴡᴏʀᴋɪɴɢ ᴏɴ ᴛʜᴇ ᴄᴏᴍᴘᴜᴛᴇʀ ғᴏʀ ᴀ ғᴇᴡ ʜᴏᴜʀs.
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  6. What a complete load of ignorant falsehoods. There was absolutely NOTHING wrong with changing to the Flint river water.

    Had this author bothered with the most basic research on this issue, she'd find the City fo Flint made a smart and reasonable decison to change water sources. They chose to join a regional group – the Karegnondi Water Authority – to build a new pipeline that they all would control, to use Lake Huron water.

    Once that decision was made the City of Detroit did everything they could to scuttle it. When they failed at that Detroit terminated the contract and would cease supplying water, leaving Flint with several years until the new pipe was done.

    Flint had little choice but to use Flint River water in the interim. They spent millions upgrading their treatment plant to do so. The water fron the Flint treatment plant meets ALL SAFETY standards and is safe, including to drink. The City knew the river water was more potentially corrosive. Marc Edwards simply lied – he is the guy from the University that blew all this up – not from the City.

    Flint did have a corrsion plan and they WERE treating for possible corrosiveness. They used lime to control the pH … and pH levels were within limits.

    The City did not know the line treatment was ineffective until later testing. The City did fail to test enough geographoc areas of the water system at the end user level. They did not test all areas. The problem was was with isolated areas. Initial testing by Edwards and his students showed lead exceeded safe levels in appx 20% of the system. If I recall – final testing showed lead problems in appx 34% of the system.

    MOST of the problems with lead are from the water service pipes to the homes from the City watermain in the street, and from lead solder INSIDE the homes. The homeowners typically "own" the service from the main and obviously own the pipes inside the house.

    That said it is still the responsibility of the City to test at end user level. Once the problem was identified, further testing was required to identify the extent of the problem. You must also consider this was not a simple "on switch" – the problem grew over time and got progressively worse.

    The simply minded and undeducated that claim its the governors (or anyone elses) fault becasue they did not take drastic action at teh first hint of trouble are simply idiots.

    The problem was fully identified in Oct 2015. And once teh extent and nature was known the Governor and all others rapidly addressed the issues.

    And until they KNEW the actual problem, the locations/extent it was occuring, and the source … there would have been no reason to believe a.) the lime treatment for pH corrosiveness levels wasn't working, and b.) that adding orthophosphates – which create a "slime" isnide the pipes that acts as a barier between the water and the pipe – was necessary.

    Flint was addressing pH levels – the corrosiveness of the water … they were monitoring and testing the pH every month. The City's engineering firm said a pH of 7.5 or higher represented safe levels. Edwards from the University said 8.0 or higher is what they should be shooting for. Higher numbers represent less accidity – less corrosiveness.

    http://michiganradio.org/post/flint-had-no-plan-minimize-lead-corrosion-peoples-drinking-water-post-river-switch

    At every point – thru the last online report from Aug 2015 – the raw water at the plant averaged well above 8 pH. And the "At the tap" level averaged above 7.5. In June 2015 the "raw" at the plant average was 8.3 and the "at the tap" pH was just below 8.0 – at 7.8. For comparision – in January 2015 the raw average was 8.3 and the "at the tap" average was 8.2. You can see other dates (up to Aug 2015) by changing the file name) (see page 5)

    https://www.cityofflint.com/wp-content/uploads/January-2015-MOR.pdf

    https://www.cityofflint.com/wp-content/uploads/August-2015-MOR.pdf

    The insinuation from Edwards with the University that no one was watching, or that pH numbers were 'plummeting' is simply false. RAW pH levels at the plant were essentially unchanged – the "at the tap" pH was dropping but by very small amounts and was still well above the standard set by the City's water engineering firm of 7.5.

    One of the earliest complainants – was identified to have a lead service to their home. Which teh City replaced after testing convirmed the high lead levels in that home. Today the estimate is appx 15,000 of the city's 51,000 housing units. Just 29% of all the housing units in the City MIGHT be affected.

    Plenty of mistakes were made – at ALL levels. The City, who relied on the engineering firm they hired, the state – the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and the feds – the EPA … ALL failed in some way here. But the facts are Flint WAS monitoring and treating for pH levels – for corrosiveness. Saying there was no approved corrosion control plan and insinuating no one was paying attention is downright false.

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