The Water in Flint Is Now Better Than Bottled Water

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Over the weekend I wrote about the latest water testing results from Flint. In case you missed it, here’s the chart:

This is basically a pretty good result, but it wasn’t clear to me if these were lead levels in the raw water or lead levels coming into homes with filters attached. Earlier this morning, I got an email from Gov. Rick Snyder’s director of communications, Ari Adler:

The testing is done without filters — the filters are removed before the water is collected when the official EPA/DEQ water samples are collected. Filters have been tested and are removing the lead even when the water was coming in with lead levels much higher than the manufacturer guaranteed. Dr. Marc Edwards from Virginia Tech told reporters recently that filtered water in Flint is actually as good if not better than bottled water because of how well the filters are working.1

….Regarding homes with filters, here is the latest information I have from the Michigan State Police (who operate the State Emergency Operations Center): They have visited 100% of homes that receive Flint water. Of those, 96.1% had been confirmed to have a filter in place; 3.9% were unconfirmed.

And this:

Also, note that because the water has improved per EPA standards, the main focus on having people use filters in Flint at this point and well into the future is due to the replacement of lead service lines. There have been several cases across the country where lead service line replacement projects caused a spike in lead levels in drinking water because of the disruption of materials in the pipes….So, the filters are in place primarily for what is in the pipes and not what is in the water. Once the lead service line project is completed, and assuming the incoming water continues the improvements in quality we have seen to date, then we would stop the recommendation for filters in Flint.

I need to emphasize that I don’t have any independent expertise here, and obviously Adler is telling the state’s side of the story. That said, it seems to match all the basic testing data, which suggests that Flint water is in pretty good shape—and for virtually all homes it’s 100 percent safe if a filter is installed.

As someone who’s spent a lot of time reporting on lead, and who takes it as seriously as anyone can, the continued fights over this really irk me. The focus in Flint should clearly be on making sure filters are properly installed everywhere, not on bottled water. Bottled water should remain available for the small number of homes that still need it, but the hysteria needs to stop. It’s hurting people who are living in fear unnecessarily. The folks in Flint deserve to know that their water is safe to use, and the money available to Flint needs to be used on more important things than delivering metric tons of bottled water all over the city.

1This is from the Detroit Free Press a few months ago:

Edwards’ latest research shows the level of lead in Flint’s drinking water supply has fallen by more than 50% and in some cases, as much as 80%, according to sampling taken at more than 160 Flint homes in summer 2015 and again last month. “Things are dramatically better than they were in 2015,” Edwards said.

In fact, Edwards said, properly filtered water in the city was likely as good, if not better, than bottled water, especially prepackaged water that had been stored for a long time in hot conditions.

Edwards recommends that anyone in America with lead service pipes should install a filter.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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