EPA: Flint still lacking ‘comprehensive’ corrosion control plan to minimize lead
Lansing — The federal Environmental Protection Agency this week told the state and city that their ongoing efforts to prevent further corrosion of Flint pipes “do not represent a comprehensive approach to minimize lead concentrations” in drinking water, calling it a “critical” issue that must be addressed.
EPA water enforcement division director Mark Pollins, in a March 29 letter to Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Keith Creagh and Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, urged the city to move ahead with plans to hire a consultant for plan development.
“A consulting firm with extensive experience assessing, developing, and implementing corrosion control plans should be chosen and work should begin as soon as possible,” Pollins wrote.
The DEQ didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The Flint water contamination crisis has been blamed, in large part, on the state’s failure to require the city to use corrosion control treatments when it began drawing water from the Flint River in April 2014.
With the help of the state, the city switched back to treated Detroit Water and Sewerage Department water in mid-October. But 7.9 percent of 600 homes tested around Flint still have lead levels above the federal action standard of 15 parts per billion, according to results released Tuesday by the Snyder administration.
The EPA also has faced criticism for its slow response after a Midwest agency regulator first raised red flags about Flint lead levels and the state’s interpretation of the federal Lead and Copper Rule in April 2015.
Creagh and Weaver have told the EPA that the city began adding extra orthophosphate on Dec. 9 and continues to add supplemental residual chlorine.
But Pollins said those individual components do not amount to a “comprehensive” corrosion control plan, as required by a Jan. 21 Safe Drinking Water Act Emergency Order. The EPA also raised the issue in February.
“The corrosion control treatment plan must apply to the entire distribution system; it must also address ongoing operation and maintenance to guide any necessary adjustments and set performance goals for determining optimized treatment,” he wrote.
Spokespersons for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the city of Flint did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday morning.
Creagh, in a March 8 letter to the EPA, outlined ongoing corrosion control efforts in Flint and said the state is updating associated sampling and monitoring information each week online.
Gov. Rick Snyder said Tuesday that a third round of “Sentinel Site” water testing in Flint shows “a gradual but consistent trend” of improving water conditions as chemical additives re-coat existing pipes, but he acknowledged “there are still sites that raise concerns.”
The DEQ has recommended the city use state funding to hire a “national qualified and experienced professional services consultant” to develop a comprehensive corrosion control plan. Creagh said the state would “take the lead” on developing a request for proposal.
That request for proposals went out March 24, according to the Pollins, who said the federal agency “recognizes this is a step forward.”
The EPA also has questioned staffing levels at the Flint water treatment plant. In a March 16 letter, Weaver said the city had hired an additional water plant supervisor, was scheduling interviews for the open director of public works position and was posting 16 other plant and distribution system jobs.
Former lab supervisor Mike Glasgow, now the city’s utilities administrator, warned of rushing the Flint plant into operation in 2014, saying in an email it could lead to “big potential disasters down the road.”
Glasgow told legislators this week he was concerned at the time by the state’s position that corrosion control chemicals were not needed and was worried about staffing levels at the plant. The facility had 40 employees in 2005 when it was used as a backup source, but 26 when it began full-time treatment of Flint River water in April 2014, he said.
Pollins’ March 29 letter listed 10 other lingering EPA concerns over compliance with its earlier emergency order, including data sharing with the federal Flint Task Force, inventory information of homes with lead service lines and daily water monitoring plans.
“EPA looks forward to our standing weekly meetings and interactions to ensure your continuing progress to adequately staff the treatment plant, optimize corrosion control treatment, and to provide a reliable public drinking water system for the people of Flint,” he wrote.