June 2016, Vol. 71 No. 6


Flint: Problems Persist For Poisoned City

by Chantel Green, Associate Editor

More than eight months have passed since the drinking water source in Flint, MI, was switched back to the Great Lakes, after a detrimental extended use of the Flint River – a decision that poisoned city residents, brought criminal charges against city and state officials and continues to threaten years of economic revitalization in Flint.

In April, the latest conundrum for Flint’s water system was lack of use. Testing completed by Virginia Tech researchers, including Marc Edwards who heads the team, showed contamination to still be at problematic levels. In March, Edwards and his team sampled water at 22.8 parts per billion (ppb) of lead in Flint’s water system – down from the 28.5 ppb recorded in August 2015, but still not low enough to fulfill the requirements of 15 ppb for at least 90 percent of the homes in the community, as set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). According to the researchers, the system needs more chemicals such as orthophosphates and chlorine to move through pipelines and plumbing fixtures in order to combat lead contamination and bacteria growth; none of which can happen if the residents are not using the water supply frequently.

Edwards told The Detroit News that “we have learned in the past few months it’s probably going to take months or a year to get these deposits out of the pipes and clean those pipes out.”

In an effort to move up the timeline for the delivery of safe potable water to Flint residents, Edwards said he will back a flushing program to begin moving water through the city’s system at faster rates, despite that doing so would require residents to increase their usage.
In late April, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced criminal charges against three officials who were formerly responsible for maintaining safe water in Flint. Schuette discussed the charges during a press conference in downtown Flint, stating that the three officials in question tinkered with evidence, tweaked testing and misled county and federal officials, which played a part in the contamination of the city’s drinking water.

Charges were filed against Mike Glasgow, 40, Flint’s laboratory and water quality supervisor; Mike Prysby, 53, an official at Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ); and Stephen Busch, 40, the Lansing, MI district coordinator for the DEQ’s
Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance. Prysby began working in the Water Resources Division’s Transportation and Flood Hazard Unit less than a month prior on March 28 – the day before Glasgow testified during a legislative hearing that Prysby told him – before the city switched to Flint River for water in 2014 – that phosphate wasn’t required.

Prosecutors claim the charges filed on April 20 are the tip of the spear in a deep investigation into government misconduct. Schuette claimed no specific targets in the continuing investigation, but also stated that no one has been ruled out, declining to say whether he anticipated an interview with Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder as a part of the exploration of misconduct.

The totality of all charges include felonies of misconduct in office and conspiracy in relation to tampering with evidence.

Busch faces five charges to include misconduct in office, conspiracy to tamper with evidence, tampering with evidence, engaging in a treatment violation that violates the Michigan SDWA, and engaging in a monitoring violation that violates the Michigan SDWA. He has been suspended without pay, according to Melanie Brown, Michigan DEQ spokeswoman.

Glasgow faces charges including two counts of tampering with evidence and willful neglect of office. Chief legal counsel for Flint, Stacy
Erwin Oakes, said Glasgow was put on paid administrative leave.

Prysby faces six criminal charges including two charges of misconduct in office and one count each of conspiracy to tamper with evidence, tampering with evidence, engaging in a treatment violation that violates the Michigan SDWA, and engaging in a monitoring violation that violates the Michigan SDWA. Prysby was also suspended without pay, Brown said.

Busch and Prysby both pleaded not guilty to the charges against them, and were released on bond the same day charges were brought. At presstime, Glasgow had not yet been arraigned on the charges against him.

Amidst these charges, Snyder was in the early days of a pledge he made to drink filtered Flint water for 30 days, in an effort to encourage residents to begin drinking from the city’s water system. He urged Flint residents to drink the water as long as a filter is in place, despite the EPA’s warning that bottled water is safest for children under 6 and pregnant or breastfeeding women.

The most recent health scare is the mental health side effects. As reported by The New York Times, health care workers are attempting to help Flint residents with what many fear may be chronic consequences of the contamination crisis including profound stress, worry, depression and guilt.

The long-lasting effects of the water crisis in Flint are more expansive than the water and sewer industries could have imagined. The effects stretch across industries and into the homes of residents, nearly a year after ceasing to source water from the Flint River. The harsh spotlight serves as a worldwide warning to enact change in the treatment and reuse of water, and the importance of addressing the rehabilitation needs for underground infrastructure.

More stories about Flint:
Flint-Inspired Water Infrastructure Bill Takes First Step Forward
Contractor Installs Large Diameter Pipeline Aimed At Alleviating Flint Crisis With Long-Term Solution
Lead Pipe Spurs Panic Mode

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