Not all in favor of using filtered water in Flint

Jim Lynch
The Detroit News

An ongoing concern in Flint is whether the most vulnerable populations should drink filtered tap water or rely solely on bottled water.

In late June, the Genesee County Medical Society issued a statement urging pregnant women and children under the age of 6 to use only bottled water for drinking.

It’s a stance that runs counter to that of most government agencies this summer as new rounds of testing have shown Flint’s water continues to improve, although more slowly than desired. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, along with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Genesee County Health Department are backing a directive that all now can drink filtered water in Flint.

In updating government’s latest Flint advisory, an MDHHS spokesperson referred a statement issued late last month, a day after new testing results showed continued improvement in Flint’s water system.

“We’re encouraged to see that when filters are installed and working correctly, all residents including pregnant and nursing mothers, and children under the age of six can use filtered water,” stated Dr. Eden Wells, MDHHS’ chief medical officer, in a press release. “Yesterday’s announcement is an important step in ensuring Flint families have access to and are properly using their filters.”

Flint has been dealing with health concerns since April 2014, when the city began drawing its drinking water from the Flint River. With the city under the control of an emergency manager appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder, state and Flint officials failed to properly treat the water to control lead contamination.

After dangerous levels of lead were shown to be present in the city’s drinking water, as well as in the blood tests of local children, Flint switched back to its original water supplier — the Detroit-based Great Lakes Water Authority — in October.

In the 18 months using the Flint River, Genesee County also saw a spike in cases of Legionnaires’ disease that included 12 deaths.

The Genesee County Medical Society is a collection of health professionals operating in Flint and the surrounding area. Dr. Pino Colone, president of the society, stressed his group was not trying to contradict government’s messaging on water use.

But Colone argued more time should be given to assess safety after a city-wide flushing program was enacted in May to help increase the effectiveness of corrosion controlling chemicals in the pipelines.

“We’re not going against the recommendations of the CDC or other bodies,” Colone said. “Our concerns have always been the safety of the people in Flint...

“I believe there is still some uncertainty.”

While Michigan officials said all homes should be tested for drinking water safety, proper filter use should provide adequate protection from lead.

“When installed properly, filtered water is safe for all populations to use,” wrote MDHHS spokeswoman Jennifer Eisner in an email response to questions. “We want to make sure that all Flint residents are using their filters and using them correctly.”

The EPA issued a similar statement Monday, saying: “Filters currently in use in Flint are effective at removing lead from drinking water when properly installed and used.”

Some critics say a hallmark of the long-running Flint water crisis has been residents getting mixed messages from sources they trusted. Despite better coordination among government and local agencies since October, mixed messages on drinking water are still reaching the public, they say.

Aware of the lack of continuity of the current messaging, Colone expressed frustration Monday.

“There has been an erosion of trust because of so many mixed messages,” he said. “...We were encouraged when so many different agencies came to Flint to study the problem. An ongoing area of frustration has been a lack of communication between those agencies.”


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