DEQ testing: Flint water below federal action level

Jim Lynch
The Detroit News

While the latest water samples out of Flint are “well below” the federal action level set for lead contamination, it remains unclear when residents can drink unfiltered water straight from their taps.

Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality released results Friday showing 96 percent of samples taken last month from city taps at 83 Tier I sites returned lead readings of 15 parts per billion or less — the federal safe drinking standard for lead. A Tier I site is a home with a lead service line or meets criteria to make it eligible to determine compliance with the federal Lead and Copper Rule.

The DEQ reports the 90th percentile of water samples — the threshold to determine compliance with the lead action level — dropped to 8 parts per billion in November, down from 40 parts per billion in February.

“This latest round of tests is a clear indication of the continued improvement in the Flint water system, and encouraging news for everyone working to help the people of Flint move forward,” Gov. Rick Snyder said in a statement.

But George Krisztian, DEQ’s Flint action plan coordinator, said technical compliance with federal regulations will not likely trigger any automatic pronouncements about the safety of the city’s water.

He said whenever such a decision is made, it will come only via consensus among the local, state and federal government and health officials that have been involved in the crisis.

Full results of the DEQ sampling efforts will be announced in early January. Later that month, Environmental Protection Agency officials will convene a panel of experts to review data on the status of Flint’s water system.

A water system is considered in compliance with federal law of 90 percent of samples fall at or below the 15 parts per billion action level over two six-month testing periods.

Regardless of the findings, residents have been instructed to use only filtered or bottled water for consumption. Researchers have encouraged those practices until further notice from state or federal officials, saying no amount of lead is safe.

The DEQ’s evidence of progress echoes similar findings reported by Virginia Tech expert Marc Edwards and his research team last week when he described improvements in Flint’s water system as an “amazing success story.”

Edwards expressed similar enthusiasm last week when his graduate team revealed their own findings. First-draw samples taken from 154 voluntary homes in Flint in November showed 6 percent of the homes above 15 parts per billion. That percentage was down from the 9.7 percent in July, 15 percent in March and 17 percent in August 2015.

“This data closely parallels with the findings of independent experts, like Dr. Marc Edwards and Virginia Tech University researchers,” DEQ Director C. Heidi Grether said in a statement. “Last week, Dr. Edwards announced that his latest testing results also found that the Flint water system continues to improve significantly.”

But since Edwards’ testing protocols did not meet the full parameters dictated by federal rules, there has been no definitive declaration the water meets standards. Virginia Tech’s team took voluntary samples and did not always target the high-risk homes required.

“So this continued increase of lead reduction have shown that the water system has been continued to recover and heal due to intervention of added corrosion inhibitors and flushing the system with high flow rates,” Virginia Tech doctoral student Min Tang said last week.

Flint residents have been dealing with water-related fears and health concerns since April 2014, when the city was under the control of a Snyder-appointed emergency financial manager. At that time, the city moved from purchasing its water from Detroit’s system, to drawing it from the Flint River.

A failure to treat the river water with proper corrosion controls is believed to have allowed for the lead contamination first identified more than 14 months ago.


(313) 222-2034