Flint residents to be hired for water testing

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Fifty Flint residents will be hired for supplemental state water testing teams working in the city, Gov. Rick Snyder announced Monday.

Orchards Children’s Services in Genesee County and Flint YMCA’s Safe Places Program will help and train the residents under a new partnership with the state.

“The people of Flint deserve timely action on emergency efforts to help the city move toward recovery,” Snyder said in statement. “We realize our water testing teams need more manpower to get the job done.”

The state is in the midst of a five-step program to test Flint water and determine whether lead levels are dissipating as new corrosion controls coat underground pipes damaged after the city began using Flint River water in April 2014.

Snyder has not provided a timeline for when Flint residents may again be able to drink unfiltered water from their taps, saying the decision will be based on rigorous scientific testing.

Snyder advisers Rich Baird and Harvey Hollins discussed the local water testing opportunities Friday in a meeting of the Flint Water Interagency Coordinating Committee, saying they were also working with local churches to recruit qualified workers, who will be paid.

Residents interested in joining the water testing team can sign up for more information at the Orchards Children's Services website.

“The solution to this situation should involve the people of Flint and that is why we are partnering with the state to strengthen our community for the future,” said Michael Williams, president of the nonprofit agency, in a statement.

As of Feb. 3, water tests from 414 Flint homes showed lead levels above the federal action standard of 15 parts per billion, according to Department of Environmental Quality Director Keith Creagh. Of the 6,276 samples collected, 5,320 showed lead levels below 5 parts per billion.

“You can say the trends are encouraging. I still say they’re numbers,” Creagh said Friday at the coordinating committee meeting, sounding both optimistic and cautious.

The state offers free in-home water tests to Flint residents. Primary care doctors in Flint and the Genesee County Health Department offer lead testing of children’s blood.

Federal and state health officials also held a press conference Thursday afternoon in Flint to detail follow-up water studies conducted some of the 26 homes where lead levels in unfiltered water exceeded the 150 parts per billion rated capacity of water filters. Water with lead levels exceeding 15 parts per billion is deemed unsafe for human consumption.

The U.S. Environmental Agency retested filtered and unfiltered water in eight of the 26 homes last week and found just one home had lead exceeding 2 parts per billion when a faucet filter was properly used, said Mark Durno, a Flint coordinator for the EPA.

Federal officials had been alarmed the previous week by water samples of unfiltered water from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality that suggested Flint’s lead contamination in parts of the city was stronger than residential faucet filters can handle.

Durno said that EPA workers first sample filtered water, then remove the faucet filter to get an unfiltered sample and then change the filter’s cartridge to get another sample to compare to the first.

Citywide testing of random homes in Flint will continue for the foreseeable future to monitor whether filters are working properly, Durno said.