Editorial: Flint water is safe but trust lacking

The Detroit News

As Flint moves on from its water crisis, residents still lack faith in elected leaders who didn’t do enough to prevent lead from poisoning the city’s water supply back in 2014. For months now, however, the water has registered normal lead levels and families can drink their water without fear.

That’s a tough ask, considering the betrayal Flint residents feel. And it’s going to take a concerted effort by city and state officials to continue proving the water’s safety. They must test the water at regular intervals and ensure (as promised) that all residents have access to filters, replacement cartridges and water testing kits in their homes, as a precaution.

Up until last week, the state provided bottled water to those who didn’t trust their tap water. But that program has now ended, as of April 6, which was a reasonable decision given that Flint’s lead levels are now the same or lower than many other cities around the state and country.

Bottled water delivery can’t go on forever. And it had continued for more than 20 months following reports that lead levels had dropped to levels below federal limits. State and federal agencies, along with independent experts, have tested the water and affirmed these safe lead levels. So the state is planning to close four remaining water bottle distribution centers once empty. And close monitoring will continue.

For those who don’t want to take the state’s results at face value, outside researchers have found similar levels.

“Results from the first round of independent tap-water testing for lead in Flint under a court-ordered settlement show lead levels are declining and the city’s water pipes are improving,” stated a Friday press release from the Natural Resources Defense Council and ACLU. “In a sample of 92 homes in Flint, Dr. Susan Masten of Michigan State University, found that the 90th percentile lead value of samples was 4 parts per billion (ppb). The federal lead action level is 15 ppb.”

And last September, Virginia Tech researcher Marc Edwards also concluded Flint’s water was safe to drink. Edwards is the engineering professor who confirmed the lead poisoning in 2015.

Pushback was expected. And in an election year, some politicians will try to use the decision to their advantage. Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said she’d try to convince Gov. Rick Snyder to continue the bottle water program — at least until the end of the year when Snyder leaves office. “We’re trying to re-establish trust when trust has been broken in the city of Flint,” she said in an interview with The Detroit News.

While that’s understandable, if providing bottled water is unnecessary, then it is an unfair expense for state taxpayers when other cities show higher lead levels. The state has already committed more than $350 million to Flint ($29 million for the bottled water program alone) and $100 million has come from the federal government.

Weaver argues that bottled water should continue for now since the city is still in the process of replacing lead service lines, and that won’t be done until the end of 2019 at the earliest. Snyder wrote to Weaver, detailing the state’s rationale for ending bottled water. He said Flint’s water is testing “the same or better than similar cities across the state.” And the city’s water has less lead than Chicago, Cincinnati and Philadelphia, among others, he said.

The state is rightly continuing with other efforts to help Flint move on, including boosted health care and nutrition services as well as education and economic development programs. Ending the bottled water program means that the state will have to work that much harder to rebuild trust with Flint residents.