Flint resident pushes for tougher lead rules with EPA

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Flint resident Lee-Anne Walters was among a group of stakeholders who met here with U.S. environmental regulators Tuesday morning, stressing that improvements are needed for federal drinking-water regulations on issues including lead service-line replacement, sampling protocols and enforcement.

Flint resident Lee-Ann Walters and Paul Schwartz of the Water Alliance stand outside the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington on Jan. 19, 2016.

“I’m fighting on the ground here, and my next stop is Flint,” Walters said after the meeting. “I think we established a good first step with them to continue talks before the new regulations are made into law.”

Walters has become an activist in Flint after finding significantly elevated levels of lead in her home drinking water and seeing the effects on her family. Walters lives part-time in Flint and part-time in Norfolk, Virginia, she said.

Among the officials in the meeting at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency were Joel Beauvais, acting deputy assistant administrator for water; Peter Grevatt, director of the Office of Groundwater and Drinking Water; and Eric Burneson, also of the Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water.

Walters said Beauvais approached her after the meeting and said he was sorry about what happened to her children and that, as a father, he couldn’t imagine if it happened to his own kids. He was emotional, and Walters gave him a hug, she said.

“EPA appreciated the opportunity to meet and hear (the stakeholders’) comments on improving the Lead and Copper Rule, particularly given the serious situation in Flint, Michigan,” the agency said in a statement.

“EPA and the stakeholders agreed that the dialogue was productive and to meet again in the near future.”

The agency says its primary goals in revising the federal Lead and Copper rule is in part to improve public health by streamlining the rule’s requirements and to improve the effectiveness of corrosion-control treatment for lead service lines.

Critics of the Lead and Copper rule say it does little to protect the public by, for instance, allowing for water samples to be collected in ways that reduce the likelihood of lead discovery. They also cite a lack of consistent enforcement and public education on lead contamination issues.

“The question is how do we move forward in a way that gives citizens the information that they need to protect themselves while the rule revisions are moving forward,” said Paul Schwartz, an adviser with the Water Alliance who participated in the meeting.

Walters wants to see federal officials doing more to ensure water utility companies are following the law and not using loopholes, so the amount of lead in service lines is reduced and has minimal risk of hurting people, she said.

Walters, co-founder of Water You Fighting For?, noticed symptoms such as hair loss, rashes and slowed growth in her son in July 2014, and came to suspect the water coming out of the taps in her home. It was brown.

She contacted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in March 2015 after tests showed elevated levels of lead in her home drinking water.

Walters said she hopes to hear Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder make a significant financial commitment Tuesday night to Flint during his State of the State address.

“I hope they start doing more than just filters and bottled water. I hope they step up their game and realize people’s lives are at stake,” she said.

“If Michigan has a $570 million surplus, and you’re asking the president for $1.5 billion, but I don’t see you moving forward to do all that you can, at least do what you can.”

Snyder actually asked Obama for $96 million in major disaster aid. The president agreed to $5 million in emergency aid.

Environmental Protection Agency officials are expected to privately brief bipartisan members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on Thursday about the agency’s response and role in Flint. The panel is chaired by Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph.


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