EPA: High lead levels in Flint exceed filters’ rating

January 29, 2016 in News by RBN

Detroit Free Press
 | 8:48 p.m. EST January 29, 2016

Local, state and federal officials Friday evening urged all Flint residents to get their water tested for lead after recent samples exceeded levels that can be effectively treated by water filters handed out to residents.

“It is essential that all Flint residents have the water in their homes tested as soon as possible,” Gov. Rick Snyder said in a statement Friday. “Please make it a priority for your family and encourage your friends and neighbors to obtain testing kits as well. The kits are available free of charge at the water resource sites within Flint fire stations.”

Pregnant women and children under six should continue to drink only bottled water at least until the additional testing at the affected homes with elevated lead levels is complete, according to federal officials.

Water testing kits are available at city hall and all Flint fire stations. Residents do not need to test their own water. Officials said they may fill up the testing bottle and return it to where it was obtained. Residents with questions can call the United Way’s helpline at 2-1-1.

The disclosure on Friday of higher lead levels at 26 sites come months after the city switched back to the Detroit water system after a disastrous change to using Flint River water. The original switch in mid-2014 was followed almost immediately by complaints from residents about discolored, pungent water that had caused a number of ailments. Local and state officials insisted for months the water was safe to drink but reversed course after independent testing discovered unsafe lead levels throughout the system believed to be caused by leaching from lead piping.

“Understandably, residents here are scared,”  Dr. Nicole Lurie, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at the federal Department of Health and Human Services, said at the press conference.

In the recent testing overseen by state and federal environmental protection officials, extremely high lead level levels were found in 26 samples of more than 4,000 collected. The samples had lead levels that exceeded 150 parts per billion. The lead filters distributed to residents and business in Flint by officials has a certified rating by the NSF International to treat water with up to 150 parts of lead per billion.

The 26 samples from unfiltered water collected since late December from around the city ranged between 153 parts per billion and more than 4,000 parts per billion. If tap water contains lead at levels exceeding action level by the federal Environmental Protection Agency of 15 parts per billion, the federal Centers for Disease Control recommends taking action to minimize exposure to the lead in the water, although no level of lead is considered safe.

There was no concentrated area with spiked lead levels in Flint in the most recent round of testing, officials said. All of the affected residents have been notified by health officials.

“So this obviously raises concerns,” Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said at the press conference. “While the number of homes tested is still small, there is still concern, and I feel it is important for the residents of Flint to hear these residents and hear from experts about what these results mean.”

Federal officials they are not completely sure why recent samples came back with lead levels well above what can be handled by home filters. “We’ll be doing more testing this whole week and test week to figure out why,” Lurie said

Despite the findings, environmental officials did not call on residents in Flint to stop using the filters to treat water. Instead, they said the filters should still work to treat the majority of water which has been tested to be below 150 parts per billion. They asked everyone who has not had their water tested to have it tested immediately.

Test results usually take about three days to be completed, officials said.

Lurie said that Dr. Mark Edwards, a lead expert who had help confirm the extent of Flint’s original water crisis, told federal officials today that the filters being used in Flint may actually be able to treat water with levels above 150 parts per billion based on a similar, early crisis over lead in water in Washington, D.C.

The newly discovered elevated lead levels do not mean that the filters are not perfoming as expected. “They are performing well,” she said. “But it does mean we need to do additional testing at homes above 150 parts per billion.

Officials added that other experts have found that the filters may be able to treat water with lead above 150 parts per billion, even though the filters are not rated to be effective above that level.

Flint is under a state of emergency after highly corrosive water in the Flint River was temporarily used as the city’s drinking water source. Experts have voiced some concern about the use of home water filter devices because the filters need to replaced on a regular basis.

Local officials said Friday they were encourage by the quick turnaround of the discovery of elevated lead levels and disclosure to elected leaders and the public.

“Today’s announcement reaffirms that having EPA, CDC and HHS personnel on the ground in Flint is leading to a more transparent and effective response, and more accurate information for city residents,” state Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) said in a statement.:”Many questions still remain regarding the state’s ability to manage this crisis and only highlights the need for a continued and amplified federal role.”

Contact Matthew Dolan: 313-223-4743 or msdolan@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewsdolan