Lead in Flint, Mich., water below federal limits, still not drinkable

By Stephen Feller  |  Updated Jan. 25, 2017 at 7:37 AM
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Jan. 24 (UPI) -- After years of tap water in Flint, Michigan, being too dangerous to drink, a state monitoring agency said Tuesday that lead levels have dropped below federal action levels, suggesting the water is on its way back to being drinkable -- but not quite yet.

Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality announced Tuesday that 90 percent of water samples taken between July 2016 and December 2016 had levels of lead below 12 parts per billion, lower than the federal action level of 15 parts per billion.

Despite the improvement, state officials say they recommend Flint residents continue to use filtered or bottled water for drinking and cooking because of the chance for spikes as lead-lined pipes throughout the city are replaced.

The 100,000-person town has been without usable running water for more than two years since city officials switched the town's water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River. With the change, the city did not properly treat the more corrosive water, which ate into iron and lead pipes throughout Flint, causing lead to leech into the water and sicken people.

"It was important to attain a water quality that remains below action levels of the federal Lead and Copper Rule and is comparable to cities with similar size and age of infrastructure in Michigan and the U.S," Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said in a press release. "This is not the end of our work in Flint, but it is one more step along the path toward Flint's future."

The federal government says water systems with lead levels higher than 15 parts per billion are beyond the "action level," forcing local authorities into corrective action until samples show a difference. While 90 percent of Flint's samples came in around 12 parts per billion, 24 samples -- about 6 percent -- are still above 15 parts per billion.

The state is required to continue replacing pipes until the entire system is below 15 parts per billion. Lead levels in water also must remain below the 15 parts per billion for two consecutive six-month testing periods, of which the state has passed one.

The state has for months been giving out credits to people for bottle water and filters for sinks, and plans to continue doing so as it continues working to fix the broken water system.

Some residents don't trust the state's testing, considering the government had previously told residents the water was fine and to keep using it, despite an outbreak of illnesses repeatedly linked to lead exposure.

"They've fooled us too many times," Gina Luster, an organizer for Flint Rising, told The Washington Post. "I'm not going anywhere near it... I don't think we'll ever trust the water again. I think you have an entire city that's going to be suffering PTSD about water for the rest of their lives."

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