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Expert: Flint’s lead test results show improvement

Jim Lynch
The Detroit News

Water samples taken from Flint homes in recent weeks indicate the city’s water quality is improving, an expert said Monday, but state officials don’t want residents to abandon bottled water and filters.

Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality posted this week new sampling statistics on its website that showed:

■ Of the 1,186 total residential samples collected so far, 1,099 or 92.7 percent were at or below the action level for lead of 15 parts per billion. This means 87 samples were above the threshold, exposed residents to too much lead and require corrective action.

■About 81.5 percent or 966 samples were at or below the 5 parts per billion level of lead. This means 134 samples showed a reading of possible exposure to lead in drinking water.

Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech researcher whose work helped uncover lead contamination in the city’s water, said the early returns on the new testing show progress after Flint returned to the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department in October.

“It’s definitely encouraging ...,” Edwards said. “These are still worrisome numbers, and until they actually do legitimate Lead and Copper Rule sampling, we won’t know for sure.”

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality officials declined to interpret the numbers, but said this month they have been inundated with samples. In addition to the 1,186 processed, more than 1,000 await analysis by the state.

The incoming results are helping to pinpoint Flint’s trouble areas. The Genesee County city has been dealing with water concerns since April 2014 when it began using the Flint River as its source. A failure to treat the water with corrosion controls is believed to have resulted in contaminated drinking water.

In late summer, a researcher at Hurley Medical Center in Flint found evidence of lead poisoning in the blood of city children.

Michigan officials have set up a five-pronged testing approach for capturing as much information as possible on Flint’s water situation. Residential sampling is the front line of that effort, and each involves a partnership with other state agencies.

The other areas include school testing that involves Michigan’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, scanning for signs of elevated lead levels in residents’ blood with the Department of Health and Human Services, and monitoring food service establishments with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

But of most importance over the long term will be the state’s sentinel site testing, said George Krisztian, the DEQ’s Flint action plan coordinator. These testing sites will be spread throughout the city, with many concentrated in the areas believed to be hardest hit by lead contamination.

Samples will be collected every two weeks, providing trend analysis data.

Yet a lifting of the advisories on water use will likely not come for some time. In the meantime, residents are urged to do what they’ve been doing for so long -- use bottled water and filters, and be careful about bathing children 6 or younger in tap water.

“One thing we want to convey to the public is that, irrespective of what your home’s results are, for the time being we want to encourage everything to continue the use of filters on their faucets and the use of bottled water,” Krisztian said. “We want to exercise an abundance of caution.”

Krisztian said a final call on to when to lift water advisories will likely come from a consensus of all the local, state and federal agencies now involved in Flint’s situation.

jlynch@detroitnews.com

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