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EPA: Flint needs to add chlorine equipment for summer

Jim Lynch
The Detroit News

The city of Flint may not be prepared to properly chlorinate its drinking water during the summer’s peak demand, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is warning.

The federal agency sent a letter to Flint late last week outlining its concerns about the summer’s impact on the amount of chlorine in the system. The chemical element is used in municipal systems to prevent disease-causing organisms from developing.

So far, testing has shown Flint currently has the proper amount of chlorine in the system to keep issues at bay. But the situation could change when water demand increases as the weather warms, EPA officials said.

“As chlorine decay increases with warmer temperatures, EPA is concerned that (Flint) will not be capable of maintaining chlorine residuals that follow best practices and are protective of public health,” wrote Mark Pollins, director of EPA’s Water Enforcement Division. “In particular, we are concerned that while the city can add chlorine at ts Cedar Street and West Side Reservoirs, this additional chlorine does not reach the entire distribution system.”

Pollins is calling on Flint to upgrade its main water treatment plant with additional chlorination equipment.

“With the onset of warmer weather, the situation is urgent,” he wrote. “We believe the city and the state must take immediate action to implement a temporary solution even as a long-term treatment system is developed and put in place.”

Flint has had a troubled history with bacteria in its water after the city dropped its longtime provider, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, in April 2014 and began drawing its water from the Flint River. During the next 18 months, problems ranged from E. coli alerts and boiled water advisories to a spike in cases of Legionnaires’ disease that the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services says sickened 79 people and killed 12.

The 18-month switch in water sources took place while Flint was under the control of emergency managers appointed by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. That’s why the state has shouldered the bulk of responsibility for the city’s two years of water woes and the Department of Environmental Quality continues to oversee work to help the system recover.

Flint officials could not be reached for comment Monday. But Pollins’ letter indicated a temporary chlorine feed system should be installed at the city’s water plant by June 10. A permanent treatment system would need to add sodium hypochlorite to keep chlorine levels sufficient as well as caustic soda to ensure proper amounts of phosphates remain in the pipelines to prevent lead contamination, the EPA said in its letter.

DEQ officials said the EPA request was expected and that the equipment should be in place by the June 10 deadline. Flint is on track to begin getting its water from the newly formed Karegnondi Water Authority most likely some time in 2017.

DEQ Director Keith Creagh said chlorine treatment capacity was always part of planned upgrades for Flint’s water treatment plant in advance of the KWA switch. The EPA’s request is simply moving up the timetable.

“They’ve been on Detroit water recently, which has had the plant acting more as a distribution plant, not as a a treatment operation,” Creagh said. “Our people worked over the weekend with the city. ... Everyone’s on board to make this happen.”

JLynch@detroitnews.com

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