Why Is Flint’s Water Still Unsafe? Or Is It?

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


Can someone help me out? Flint reconnected to the Detroit water system in October, and it was supposed to take a few weeks after that to clean out the pipes. So what happened? I keep seeing pallets of bottled water being delivered to Flint, but shouldn’t the tap water be safe by now? Has it been tested for lead levels in the past month or two? I’ve been trying to check this out, but I can’t seem to find anything definitive.

I feel like I must have missed something. I don’t know how hard a thorough round of testing is, but it sure seems like that would have been a top priority starting in early November. Is it being done?

UPDATE: Here’s the answer:

  • Over time, the lead pipes in Flint built up a protective mineral coating—or scale—that prevented lead from getting into the water.
  • During the 17 months it was used, acidic water from the Flint River corroded away the scale, exposing fresh metal.
  • Even if the water is now good, it’s going to take a while before the scale rebuilds. In the meantime, lead can still leach into the water.

Back in December, the Flint Utilities Director announced that they planned to boost the level of phosphates in the water to aid in rebuilding the scale. They also hired a firm to begin testing of high-risk homes. Normally it can take up to five years for scale to rebuild, but presumably the additional phosphates will reduce this time. Still, it might be quite a while before the water is safe again, which explains the continuing pallets of bottled water.

LET’S TALK ABOUT OPTIMISM FOR A CHANGE

Democracy and journalism are in crisis mode—and have been for a while. So how about doing something different?

Mother Jones did. We just merged with the Center for Investigative Reporting, bringing the radio show Reveal, the documentary film team CIR Studios, and Mother Jones together as one bigger, bolder investigative journalism nonprofit.

And this is the first time we’re asking you to support the new organization we’re building. In “Less Dreading, More Doing,” we lay it all out for you: why we merged, how we’re stronger together, why we’re optimistic about the work ahead, and why we need to raise the First $500,000 in online donations by June 22.

It won’t be easy. There are many exciting new things to share with you, but spoiler: Wiggle room in our budget is not among them. We can’t afford missing these goals. We need this to be a big one. Falling flat would be utterly devastating right now.

A First $500,000 donation of $500, $50, or $5 would mean the world to us—a signal that you believe in the power of independent investigative reporting like we do. And whether you can pitch in or not, we have a free Strengthen Journalism sticker for you so you can help us spread the word and make the most of this huge moment.

payment methods

LET’S TALK ABOUT OPTIMISM FOR A CHANGE

Democracy and journalism are in crisis mode—and have been for a while. So how about doing something different?

Mother Jones did. We just merged with the Center for Investigative Reporting, bringing the radio show Reveal, the documentary film team CIR Studios, and Mother Jones together as one bigger, bolder investigative journalism nonprofit.

And this is the first time we’re asking you to support the new organization we’re building. In “Less Dreading, More Doing,” we lay it all out for you: why we merged, how we’re stronger together, why we’re optimistic about the work ahead, and why we need to raise the First $500,000 in online donations by June 22.

It won’t be easy. There are many exciting new things to share with you, but spoiler: Wiggle room in our budget is not among them. We can’t afford missing these goals. We need this to be a big one. Falling flat would be utterly devastating right now.

A First $500,000 donation of $500, $50, or $5 would mean the world to us—a signal that you believe in the power of independent investigative reporting like we do. And whether you can pitch in or not, we have a free Strengthen Journalism sticker for you so you can help us spread the word and make the most of this huge moment.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate