The Water in Flint Is Now Officially Safe to Drink

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On Tuesday, Flint’s water system was officially declared in compliance with federal standards:

Flint’s water system no longer has levels of lead exceeding the federal limit, a key finding that Michigan state environmental officials said Tuesday is good news for a city whose 100,000 residents have been grappling with the man-made water crisis. The 90th percentile of lead concentrations in Flint was 12 parts per billion from July through December — below the “action level” of 15 ppb, according to a letter from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to Flint’s mayor. It was 20 ppb in the prior six-month period.

That should be good news. Unfortunately, nobody believes it:

Is Flint water now safe? U.S. District Judge David M. Lawson wanted to know.

“I can unequivocally state the drinking water in Flint is safe, as defined by the (Environmental Protection Agency’s) Copper and Lead Rule,” said Attorney Richard S. Kuhl, an assistant attorney general who is representing the state.

Lawson called Kuhl’s addendum, “as defined by the Copper and Lead rule,” an “interesting dodge.”

….If the water is now safe, why then, haven’t officials told residents they can stop using filters? asked plaintiff attorney Dimple Chaudhary of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“We are still concerned about the lead service line removals and how that will impact the system,” the attorney said when asked the question by Lawson. “We are still recommending residents don’t drink unfiltered water.”

Kuhl said it’s a “political decision” and not a “water compliance decision.”

….The judge asked Kuhl if he had personally consumed Flint water since it’s become “safe.” The attorney said he hadn’t visited Flint in months. “The force of your argument might be enhanced if you actually did take a trip,” Lawson responded.

Color me unimpressed with Judge Lawson. Using federal guidelines is not an “interesting dodge,” it’s the only appropriate way to judge the water. And telling an attorney to go drink a big glass of Flint water if he wants anyone to believe him is just a juvenile cheap shot. Lawson should be concerned with getting the best facts available, not with playing dumb games in his courtroom.

Unfortunately, as Kuhl said, in one of history’s great understatements, “we realize there has been a loss of trust in the city.” That’s pretty understandable, but it’s also yet another tragedy on top of the original one. There’s no hint of malfeasance or foul play in the current  monitoring of Flint’s water. It’s safe to use, and safe to drink. If you want to use bottled water for infants, I wouldn’t blame you, but that’s as far as I’d go. As much as it’s appalling to tell people the water is safe when it isn’t, it’s just as appalling to keep them in terror of the water when it is safe. Residents of Flint can go back to their lives. It’s time to stop keeping them in a constant state of panic.

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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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