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The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is in talks with Flint officials about financing forgivable loans to replace lead-leaching water pipes while U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee is pursuing federal forgiveness for the city’s nearly $21 million in past loans for drinking water infrastructure improvements.

Kildee said Friday he wants the U.S. Environment Protection Agency to forgive Flint’s debt to a federally-funded clean drinking water loan fund to free up money for the cash-strapped city to invest in replacing aging water lines linked to elevated lead levels in the blood of some Flint children and adults.

Lead leached from Flint’s water pipes between April 2014 and October when the city was pumping its drinking water from the corrosive Flint River. In October, after Flint doctors found children exposed to lead poisoning, the city switched its water source back to Detroit’s treated Lake Huron water.

“(Flint) could use that money for new improvements that will help offset the damage that was done by this terrible mistake because it did have permanent impact not just on people but on the system itself,” Kildee said Friday after a taping of WKAR-TV’s “Off The Record.”

Kildee, D-Flint, said Flint also could use the debt relief to lower water rates for residents.

“They pay almost the highest amount for the worst water,” Kildee said.

Flint’s four past loans for drinking water infrastructure improvements come from a state-managed fund at the Department of Environmental Quality.

But the EPA would have to approve forgiving the old loans, DEQ spokesman Brad Wurfel said.

“We can do loan forgiveness at some level on new loans, and we are discussing this possibility with the city of Flint,” Wurfel said Friday.

The EPA has already agreed to let the DEQ finance new forgivable loans for Flint to replace private water service lines running up to homes that are old and leaching lead into the city’s drinking water, Kildee said.

“They need to move forward on that,” Kildee said of DEQ.

DEQ has asked Flint officials for studies and documentation about the city’s needs, assessment management and capital improvement plans for its underground water service system, Wurfel said.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration pledged in October to assist Flint in a long-term replacement of water service lines with lead in the pipes damaged by the corrosive Flint River water.

At Snyder’s request, the Legislature quickly appropriated $6 million to cover half of the $12 million cost to reconnect Flint to Detroit’s water. The Snyder administration also freed up $1 million to provide free faucet water filters residents to remove lead.

DEQ Director Dan Wyant discussed new loans for replacing water lines that could be forgiven during meetings Thursday and Friday with newly elected Flint Mayor Karen Weaver and other city officials, Wurfel said.

Kildee also said Friday he’s pushing for Snyder to establish a health care fund for the long-term needs of as many as 7,000 Flint children who may have been exposed to lead poisoning in the city’s water.

The Democratic congressman wants the Republican governor’s administration to create a database tracking the health and nutrition of Flint children potentially harmed by lead-tainted water. Such an effort by state government “is not a big lift,” Kildee said.

“We ought to be able to do that,” Kildee said. “We know who they are.”

Snyder spokesman Dave Murray said the governor’s Flint water task force is preparing a long-term plan for dealing with the city’s water problems.

“We expect the group’s report to include a set of recommendations moving forward,” Murray said Friday in an email. “State agencies also are continuing with Gov. Snyder’s action plan, which includes distributing filters and continuing testing and other steps that will help Flint with its water infrastructure challenges.”

Flint residents can get more information about getting their water tested for lead or getting a free water filter online at www.michigan.gov/flintwater or by calling (810) 787-6537.

clivengood@detroitnews.com

(517) 371-3660

Twitter.com/ChadLivengood

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