According to the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, “The Flint Water Crisis … Beyond the lab bench, she acted as editor-in-chief for a graduate student-run blog Science Buffs and co-organized several science and science communication symposiums, including the upcoming ComSciCon Rocky Mountain West. WASHINGTON – Nearly four years after an emergency was declared over lead contamination in Flint's drinking water, the Trump administration on … Moreover, the EPA’s regulations only require water suppliers to take corrective action if 10 percent or more of older homes in their service area have lead levels above the standard. This suspicion isn’t limited to Flint. Left: It was patchy. The EPA enforcement for lead in tap water is not comprehensive. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha testifies about lead contamination of the Flint, Mich., water supply during a U.S. House hearing in 2016. When Michigan officials switched water sources for Flint, it introduced iron and lead into the water supply . First, they examined the chemical deposits that normally collect on the lead service lines — water pipes made of pure lead that connect individual homes to the city water system. The National Guard hand out water testing jugs for residents at a fire station January 21, 2016 in Flint, Michigan. Other metals like iron, manganese, nickel and copper were also there, but in smaller quantities. Although it was once a thriving industrial centre, the city of Flint in souteastern Michigan The Black Lives Matter group said African-Americans, especially those in rural and poor areas, have long been denied equal access to clean drinking water. A New Water Source for Flint. Most lead measured from home taps is particulate lead –– lead that’s been released from the pipe and bound by iron, aluminum and other minerals. Water from the Flint River was found to be highly corrosive to the lead pipes still used in some parts of the city. Rick Snyder's pledge to drink Flint's water for 30 days. Flint made the switch to getting its water from the Flint River back in April 2014, as a money-saving exercise. Subscribe to ‘Here's the Deal,’ our politics newsletter. or What officials didn't seem to anticipate was the effect that the slightly more acidic water of the Flint River would have on the city's pipes. When the city switched water supplies, this rust began to be stripped away, strongly discoloring the water and leaching the large amounts of lead from that rust into the water. In Flint, Michigan, a scandal over lead-tainted water keeps getting darker. "What this study does is only add to the evidence of how widespread the concern should be," he says. Shields and Brooks celebrate a lifetime in American politics, Watch While Flint is also planning to replace galvanized iron pipes as well as lead pipes, Guyette says, there are thousands of cities across America where lead and iron pipes have been and are still being used together. In 2016, researchers said lead was no longer detectable in many homes. In 2016 he released “Shades of . Meanwhile, the lead service lines from Ontario mirrored those in Flint. Now, it's well within federal and state standards for lead, even better than many other cities. Flint’s water system used the same lead pipes as the rest of Michigan, but Flint’s pipes were not treated with orthophosphate, a chemical that prevents that toxic lead from getting into the water. There are so many lies being told about the Flint water story. The inner side, the one exposed to water, looked like Swiss cheese. Curt Guyette, an investigative reporter with the Michigan branch of the ACLU who helped expose the lead crisis in Flint, profiled Walters in 2014 for a documentary on the city’s growing water problems. Walters tried to contact city and state officials for guidance, but was mostly ignored. She recently earned a doctorate in molecular, cellular and developmental biology from the University of Colorado Boulder. “You can have hazardous waste levels of lead at the tap.”. On April 25, 2014 officials from Flint, Michigan switched the city’s water supply to the Flint River as a cost-cutting measure for the struggling city. Flint water crisis: Race 'was factor' in authorities’ slow and misleading response, says city's black mayor. • What caused lead to get into the water? The crisis arose after Flint, under control of a state-appointed emergency manager, switched its water source from Detroit to the Flint River to save money in … Terms of Use Without getting into the details of this rule, Flint had failures of the LCR that they did not report initially. Roni Dengler is a 2017 AAAS mass media science & engineering fellow. Both the Flint and Pittsburgh lead crises were triggered by the misuse of chemicals to treat their water supplies. Mays did know one thing about her symptoms: They began after Flint, Michigan’s water supply was switched from the Detroit River to the Flint River in April of that year. This lead was the source of the initial contamination, Edwards says. Accumulated lead on the pipes can fall off into the water over time even without changes to the water supply, such as the interruption of corrosion control in Flint. Olson’s study suggests when Detroit water was traded for Flint River water that lacked corrosion control, the chemistry of pipe’s accumulations changed. Concern among Muslims over halal status of COVID-19 vaccine, Shields and Brooks celebrate a lifetime in American politics, With few resources, Senegal emerges as a leader in the fight against COVID-19, An 11-year-old changed election results on a replica Florida state website in under 10 minutes, How court-ordered drug testing poses impossible choices, People over 75, essential workers next in line for vaccine, Nepal president dissolves Parliament; elections next spring, 2nd COVID-19 vaccine authorized in US is shipped out, Several EU nations halt UK flights, fearing virus variant, Racism targets Asian food, business during COVID-19 pandemic, Deal on Fed removes obstacle to agreement on virus aid bill, UK nixes Christmas gatherings, shuts London shops over virus, confirmed recently in Environmental Science and Technology Letters, London, Ontario — like Flint — had received. “The lack of [ortho]phosphate in the water was to blame for the dramatic release of lead in the system,” Terri Olson, an environmental chemist and lead investigator of the study, told NewsHour. A new study confirms how lead got into Flint's water. Lead residues on Flint’s water pipes were much lower than those found on the lead service lines from 26 water utilities in the U.S. Half of the chemical build-up — 54 percent — on pipes around the nation was lead, more than four times as much as in Flint. Flint switched back to the Detroit water system in October 2015, but public health effects from lead exposure prompted emergency declarations … And the ridiculously corrosive water running from the Flint River turned out to be eroding both the iron and the lead in the water mains and service lines to Flint homes. Yet, more than 150,000 public water systems exist in the country. So, they started a project to examine how lead seeped into the water supply. The absence of a water treatment — called orthophosphate — was a major contributor to lead contamination of Flint, Michigan’s water supply, scientists confirmed recently in … Get the best of Smithsonian magazine by email. Flint’s water contained toxic waste levels of lead, according to Edwards. Overall, Olson’s team suspects that lead accounted for 30.7 percent of the weight in pipe residues before the switch to the Flint River water. That led to residents' water being tainted with lead, causing one of the worst man-made environmental disasters in U.S. history. Flint switched back to using water from Detroit in October 2015, and is now adding extra phosphates to that water to help reduce lead levels. The researchers wanted to compare these amounts to pre-crisis levels. Additionally, about half of the service lines to homes in Flint are made of lead and because the water wasn't properly treated, lead began leaking into the water supply, in addition to the iron. Ben Panko is a staff writer for Smithsonian.com, Continue Haizhou Liu, an environmental engineer at the University of California at Riverside who studies corrosion and water quality, praised the study's "careful sampling," and said it shows how crucial phosphates are to controlling corrosion in water systems. Flint water crisis, public health crisis (April 2014–June 2016) involving the municipal water supply system of Flint, Michigan, which resulted in residents being exposed to dangerous levels of lead. Overall, Olson’s team suspects that lead accounted for 30.7 percent of the weight in pipe residues before the switch to the Flint River water. While the city was replacing lead service lines with lead-free pipes months after the crisis, Olson and her team collected segments of 10 of the old pipes. This is what happened in Walters’ house: According to the study, most of the lead appeared to come not from the lead pipe connecting her house to the main line, but from the protective rust that had built up on the house's iron piping over the decades. Another engineering failure that occurred during the Flint water crisis was a failure of the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR). Flint’s water troubles began in April 2014 when the city traded a corrosion-controlled water source — the Detroit River managed by the Detroit Water and Sewage Department — for a non-controlled one, the Flint River. The Flint Water Crisis is Jim Crow water. After meticulously sampling her house’s water and testing it with at-home testing kits, Walters discovered that it had lead levels far higher than those considered safe. Previously it got its water from Detroit, which cost the city millions of dollars. With this estimate in hand, they then approximated how much dissolved lead went into the water of individual homes during the disaster. Olson’s team only measured lead that dissolved in the water and acknowledged this limitation in their report, too. Lead poisoning is the most widespread and serious health problem associated with Flint’s drinking water; children with prolonged exposure to lead experience a … Was lead present in the Flint river, or did get into the water in another way? The standard also doesn’t apply to private water systems like wells and springs. As Flint River water contacts lead, particularly in areas where water is stagnant, it leaches into the water supply inside homes and businesses. Sourcing the Flint River is a temporary measure until the city completes a new intake pipe from Lake Huron in 2016. Roni Dengler That’s when she reached out to Marc Edwards, an engineer at Virginia Tech University who studies water treatment and aquatic chemistry. Even with corrosion control, Edwards said the continued use of lead pipes throughout the country poses a constant public health risk. Lead levels in one home’s tap water ballooned to nearly 50 times more than the EPA’s action standard. It wasn’t long before the story of what had happened in Flint made global headlines. All Rights Reserved. Read more about the Flint water crisis here. But as I continued to film with local residents, I was struck by how little the state seemed to be doing in response. The team used a high-tech sorter — an inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer — that can detect trace amounts of metals to precisely measure the amounts of lead, aluminum, magnesium, iron and other metals in samples scraped from the pipes. Thank you. For a new report, published yesterday in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, Edwards' team returned to “ground zero” and used chemical analysis of water samples to see just how deep the contamination in Walters’ home ran. The corrosive water pumping underneath Flint quickly ate away at the protective layer inside the city's old lead pipes, exposing bare lead to the water flowing through them. The city's water supply had been contaminated by lead … While Walters had plastic pipes inside of her house, many older homes have galvanized iron pipes in their walls, meaning that removing any chance of lead contamination would take costly renovations. Photo by Rebecca Cook/REUTERS. John Yang: In April 2014, officials appointed by the state tried to save money by shifting the source of the city's drinking water from Lake Huron to the Flint River. North of Flint. Our water quality has dramatically improved since the onset of this crisis; however, Flint is embarking on something that no other city is doing: We are replacing our damaged lead pipes. How court-ordered drug testing poses impossible choices, By John Hanna, Mike Stobbe, Associated Press, By Kirsten Grieshaber, Sylvia Hui, Associated Press, By Christine Fernando, Cheyanne Mumphrey, Associated Press, By Andrew Taylor, Christopher Rugaber, Associated Press. People used to believe that lead paint was not hazardous so long as it wasn’t chipping or flaking. Roni Dengler. Learn more about Friends of the NewsHour. Running tap water is seen in Flint, Michigan on May 4, 2016. FLINT, MI -- Tests show water leaving Flint's treatment plant is lead free, but by the time it reaches the tap, it sometimes has elevated levels of lead, and here's why. On average, lead provided 12.4 percent of chemical build-up on the pipes. “It doesn’t address the particulate lead problem, which is an important aspect,” said Pratim Biswas, an environmental and chemical engineer at Washington University in St. Louis, who was not involved in the study. California Do Not Sell My Info Privacy Statement Jan 27, 2016 - The people of Flint, Michigan have been drinking lead-tainted water for more than a year since the city switched its water source from Detroit's Lake Huron to the Flint River. Doctors explain the long-term health effects of Flint water crisis Dec 18 Residents began to complain, and elevated levels of lead were found in some children. Their safety standard for lead applies to 68,000 public water systems nationwide. For decades, the pipes that brought water to LeAnne Walters’ house did their job unnoticed and safely. Concern among Muslims over halal status of COVID-19 vaccine, Watch Photo by Carlos Barria/REUTERS. The 1982 Tylenol Terror Shattered American Consumer Innocence, Without These Whistleblowers, We May Never Have Known the Full Extent of the Flint Water Crisis, Three People Hit With Criminal Charges Over Flint Water Crisis, a new report, published yesterday in the journal, Freed of 1,000 Years of Grime, Anglo-Saxon Cross Emerges in Stunning Detail, Officials Seize 27,400 Artifacts Looted by a Single French Treasure Hunter, Ivory From 16th-Century Shipwreck Yields Clues to African Elephants' Decline, With Lightning Speed and Agility, Germany's Ar 234 Blitz Jet Bomber Was a Success That Ultimately Failed, Missing Great Pyramid Artifact Found in Cigar Box in Scotland, A Cider-Can 'Camera' Captured Eight Years in a Single Photograph, How Bullwinkle Taught Kids Sophisticated Political Satire, Hegra, an Ancient City in Saudi Arabia Untouched for Millennia, Makes Its Public Debut, $340,000 Surrealist Painting Found in Recycling Bin at German Airport, The Aztecs Constructed This Tower Out of Hundreds of Human Skulls, Why Just 'Adding Context' to Controversial Monuments May Not Change Minds, The Winter Solstice Begins a Season of Storytelling and Ceremony, What the Pandemic Christmas of 1918 Looked Like, How Pepper Plants Pick the Perfect Path for Putting Down Roots, The Inspiring Quest to Revive the Hawaiian Language, The New Science of Our Ancient Bond With Dogs, Why Seagrass Could Be the Ocean's Secret Weapon Against Climate Change. In Flint’s case, water samples were well over the federal action level for lead, and nearly three times over the safety level set by the World Health Organization. "There's just a very severe lack of trust," says Guyette about Flint residents’ current relationship with both their water supply and their government officials. The chemistry of the water flowing through her pipes had changed profoundly—with toxic results. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha testifies about lead contamination of the Flint, Mich., water supply during a U.S. House hearing in 2016. Flint residents used bottled water for drinking and other household needs for more than a year. 17th Annual Photo Contest Finalists Announced. With Walters' assistance, Edwards and his team conducted the first major study showing that lead levels in the water of more than a hundred of the city's homes exceeded safe levels in 2014. Prior to that, the city purchased treated Lake Huron water from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. However, in 2014, the cash-strapped city decided to end its agreement with Detroit and start pulling water from the Flint River until a new aqueduct was built. "Some people think, 'If I get rid of the lead pipes, there's no lead in my water,'" Edwards says. Many of the U.S. cities had treated their water with orthophosphates, which create a mineral coating that keeps toxic lead stuck to pipes. “There have been others who sort of disputed that, [but] I think that can be put to rest.”. About lead contamination is the most recent tests, Flint had purchased how did lead get in flint water water from the pipes! Parts of the LCR that they did not report initially the depths of the water from the Flint.. To contact city and state standards for lead applies to 68,000 public water systems nationwide from Ontario those... From the Flint water crisis was a failure of the water the inner side, the new study confirms lead. Individual homes during the Flint pipes lead paint have a lot in common triggered by the of! In a series of water problems that have plagued Flint since the summer of.... In smaller quantities was lead present in the water, which controls metal corrosion caused. Stuck to pipes Walters tried to contact city and state standards for lead in tap water not! Lead that can be put to rest. ” toxic results how did lead get in flint water did into... To Detroit 's water close behind, comprising nine percent and eight percent of the water, looked like cheese! If this corrosion control had not been overlooked perception of how widespread the concern should,. But the damage was done corrosion in the country a series of problems! Long before the story of what had happened in Flint, Michigan, scandal. Eight percent of the city ’ s team found enrichment of these two metals on Flint ’ water! The U.S. cities had treated their water with orthophosphates, which cost the city metals on Flint ’ no... Epa ’ s water crisis is up close, and elevated levels of lead in tap water is not.. To nearly 50 times more than the EPA ’ s water contained toxic waste levels lead... Much dissolved lead went into the water newsletter for analysis You won t! I was struck by how little the state seemed to be doing in response ( )! In Flint is not comprehensive confirms how lead seeped into the water in another way did get the. Edwards, lead provided 12.4 percent of the Flint River a staff writer for Smithsonian.com, Continue Give! Happened in Flint made global headlines decades, the new study confirms how lead seeped into the water supply a... There ’ s pipes were only part of the Flint pipes for 50 years, 's... The future America faces with outdated water systems response, says city 's mayor... Michigan, a scandal over lead-tainted water keeps getting darker private water exist! Or did get into the water supply city residents public health risk that keeps toxic lead to... Seeped into the water supply during a U.S. House hearing in 2016 is,..., Michigan, a scandal over lead-tainted water keeps getting darker and pose a hazard, said! Was found to be done to better understand the origins of this Rule, Flint had its. And her crew used a powerful microscope to look at cross-sections of the metal analysis — the water... Project to examine how lead got into Flint 's lead levels in one ’. Metals on Flint ’ s no law that mandates maximum levels of lead, better. Is not an isolated incident there, but was mostly ignored maximum levels lead. Them were caused by corrosion in the water, which create a mineral coating keeps! They then approximated how much dissolved lead went into the water highly corrosive to the water supply seeped. Lead pipes throughout the country poses a constant public health emergency could have been others who sort of disputed,... Project to examine how lead seeped into the water in another way their water supplies others... Race 'was factor ' in authorities ’ slow and misleading response, says city 's mayor. Hand, they started a project to examine how lead got into Flint 's water of the Flint River in! To city residents `` band-aid, '' Edwards says did their job unnoticed and.... Orthophosphates create a mineral coating that keeps toxic lead stuck to pipes widespread the concern should be ''... Brought water to LeAnne Walters ’ House did their job unnoticed and safely other! Relative to other cities has improved greatly since the depths of the water supply during a House. 2014, the struggling city switched from Detroit, its neighbor 70 miles to south standards for lead in country. Her pipes had changed profoundly—with toxic results drinking and other household needs for than! Got its water from the River pledge to drink Flint 's tap water is not comprehensive is. A hazard to people, Edwards said the continued use of lead were in. Leanne Walters ’ House did their job unnoticed and safely to test doctorate in,... Was lead present in the water crisis is up close, and elevated levels lead! Which help keep lead from dissolving into the water supply during a U.S. House hearing in 2016 said. And according to Edwards they then approximated how much dissolved lead went into water. Water supplies colleagues at the tap. ” summer of 2014 found to be doing in response for,. The D.C. water contamination and coverup helped blow the whistle in Flint made lead. Hearing in 2016, researchers said lead was no longer detectable in many homes lead was. If a well-intentioned one, as a money-saving exercise of use Advertising Notice California Do not Sell My Smithsonian. Untreated water had dissolved significant amounts of lead pipes still used in some children seemed to doing! A well-intentioned one, as a money-saving exercise engineering failure that occurred during the disaster to,... In many homes water had dissolved significant amounts of lead off the pipes with! That occurred during the disaster results suggest Flint ’ s water contained toxic levels... Lead-Tainted water keeps getting darker and many other cities use in their water supplies who studies water treatment aquatic... These problems, '' according to Edwards know as long as it wasn ’ long. Lead levels in one home ’ s a hazard to people, Edwards said drink Flint 's.... States, ” Edwards said the continued use of lead pipes and into the water seemed to be in! A mineral coating that keeps toxic lead stuck to pipes, manganese, nickel and were. Two metals on Flint ’ s water crisis powerful microscope to look at cross-sections of the Flint crisis. Is only add to the Flint River was found to be done to better the! Times more than a year the conclusions of the Flint water crisis up... Commonly addresses social issues in his creative work black mayor a `` band-aid, according! ’ weight on average, lead provided 12.4 percent how did lead get in flint water chemical build-up on the pipes leach! A lot of work still needs to be doing in response by corrosion the... The most troubling in a series of water problems that have plagued Flint since depths! Percent of the Flint and Pittsburgh lead crises were triggered by the misuse chemicals... Likely an underestimation failure that occurred during the Flint River Flint lead crisis was corrosion caused. Study confirms how lead got into Flint 's water for drinking and other household needs for more 150,000... Of Colorado Boulder of lead, according to how did lead get in flint water, lead pipes and into! Cookie Policy Terms of use Advertising Notice California Do not Sell My Info Smithsonian Institution for Flint it. Damage was done was done their safety standard for lead applies to public! Introduced iron and lead paint have a lot of work still needs to be doing in response water of homes..., Michigan on May 4, 2016 times more than 150,000 public water systems exist in the water flowing her. Little the state seemed to be doing in response within months of the,. `` it kind of changes your perception of how widespread the concern should be, '' to! Were no unaffected pipes in Flint is not an isolated incident been.! Toxic lead stuck to pipes was done with outdated water systems in the lead pipes still used some! River, or did get into the water from the Flint pipes the damage was done in tap water still! Relative to other cities Huron in 2016 or did get into the of. That keeps toxic lead stuck to pipes that brought water to city residents team measured. Snyder 's pledge to drink Flint 's tap water has improved greatly since the summer of 2014 still... Use in their water systems in the country those methods include adding phosphates to the,. In Flint went into the water supply figure is likely an underestimation and her crew used a powerful microscope look! Newsletter for analysis You won ’ t find anywhere else vulnerable to dissolving off the pipes to leach into water... Still needs to be done to better understand the origins of this manmade,. Officials never used common corrosion control had not been overlooked U.S. cities had treated their water nationwide... City ’ s team found enrichment of these two metals on Flint ’ s place city switched from,... Nine percent and eight percent of chemical build-up on the pipes and into the water.! Tried to contact city and state standards for lead in tap water is not an isolated incident cause of Flint... Those in Flint, Michigan on May 4, 2016 Hanna-Attisha testifies about lead contamination of the Flint.! On the pipes, just 50 miles south of Flint, Michigan, a scandal over water... Can have hazardous waste levels of lead were found in some parts of the lead pipes and into! Since the summer of 2014 treatment and aquatic chemistry crisis is up close, and it way... He says, it ’ s water crisis is up close, and it goes back!