The researcher who helped confirm the Flint water crisis said Friday the city’s quality of water is testing at federally acceptable levels but residents still distrust the once-contaminated water supply.
Researchers from the Virginia Tech College of Engineering led by professor Marc Edwards showed that federal standards are now being met and that five rounds of citizen-led testing will now cease. Testing of 138 Flint homes showed an average lead reading in August of 8.3 parts per billion, below the federal standard of 15 parts per billion.
The results were significant because they happened during warmer weather when corrosion and lead contamination is more likely to occur, Virginia Tech scientists said.
The August results followed a November 2016 finding of 8.4 parts per billion.
“Today, we have ... definitive data showing that the levels of these parameters currently in Flint water are back to normal levels for a city with old lead pipes,” said Virginia Tech’s Marc Edwards during a news conference in Virginia.
Edwards and 44 other researchers who are part of his team warned that residents should still take precautions with the water by using filters and bottled water, which is still being distributed throughout the city. These practices will, the researchers said, limit any residual lead exposure.
“If you define the end of the water crisis as having water quality parameters back in the range considered normal for other cities with old lead pipes, the answer is yes,” Edwards said in response to a reporter’s question.
“Obviously, there’s still a crisis of confidence amongst Flint residents that’s not going to be restored anytime soon. It’s beyond the reach of science to solve, but it can only be addressed by years of trustworthy behavior by government agencies who, unfortunately, lost that trust, deservedly, in the first place.”
Edwards’ comments echoed those of former President Barack Obama, who visited Flint in May 2016 to tell residents that filtered water was safe to drink and then took a sip — a gesture that still didn’t win over many of the 1,100 people who attended his speech at Northwestern High School.
“Although I understand the fear and concern that people have, and it is entirely legitimate, what the science tells us at this stage is you should not drink any of the water that is not filtered but if you get the filter and use it properly, that water can be consumed,” Obama said 16 months ago. “That’s information that I trust and I believe.”
The testing announcement caught off-guard Flint Mayor Karen Weaver.
“It would have been nice to have had an opportunity to review the data before an announcement was made publicly that speaks of the beginning of the end to our city’s water crisis,” Weaver said in a statement. “Nevertheless, it is encouraging to hear that the test results from Edwards and his team at Virginia Tech show Flint’s water quality, as it relates to lead, continues to improve.”
The mayor said her top priority “remains getting all lead-tainted pipes in Flint replaced.”
The city is the midst of replacing nearly 20,000 of all its service lines by 2020. In July, Weaver’s administration had replaced service lines in 2,181 homes since March 2016.
The city is trying to replace lead-damaged infrastructure at the pace of 6,000 new pipes annually during the next three years.
Edwards said Virginia Tech would stop citywide testing for lead but would continue monitoring bacteria and chlorine levels in Flint’s water. He said his team was halting the testing for now because its results tracked the results from state of Michigan testing.
Friday is the second anniversary of when Edwards and his team found a citywide lead contamination of the water and reported it to Flint residents outside city hall, he said.
The administration of Gov. Rick Snyder within a month announced there was lead contamination in city water and authorized a switch from the Flint River source back to the Detroit water system the city had used before April 2014.
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