After almost two years of results showing Flint’s water testing below federal standards for lead, Gov. Rick Snyder announced April 6 the state will close the four remaining point of distribution (POD) centers for bottled water when the current supply runs out. Deliveries of bottled water to homebound residents will end at the same time, but residents will still be able to get free water filters and replacement cartridges at city hall.
“We have worked diligently to restore the water quality and the scientific data now proves the water system is stable and the need for bottled water has ended,” Snyder said. “For the past two years, I have repeatedly been asked when I would declare the water safe in Flint and I have always said that no arbitrary decision would be made — that we would let the science take us to that conclusion.”
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said the available supply of bottled water is expected to be exhausted over the weekend.
“We did not cause the man-made water disaster, therefore adequate resources should continue being provided until the problem is fixed and all the lead and galvanized pipes have been replaced. I will be contacting the governor’s office immediately to express the insensitivity of the decision he made today,” Weaver said in a statement.
Senate Minority Leader Sen. Jim Ananich (D-Flint) was not happy with the announcement.
“It’s beyond belief that the governor expects the folks in Flint to trust the government now, when they lied to our faces about lead in our water just a few years ago,” Ananich said. “That trust was broken, and families in Flint still don’t feel that the water in their homes is safe to drink. We won’t feel safe drinking our water until every bad pipe is replaced, and the administration that caused this disaster needs to make sure bottled water stays available until that happens.”
Rep. Sheldon Neeley (D-Flint) noted that this development occurs while the head of the Department of Health and Human Services still faces charges for manslaughter over the Flint water crisis.
“People of the city of Flint, they don’t believe the water is safe. They don’t trust the government. There is a crisis of confidence. They’re not going to drink the water,” Neeley said. “Gov. Snyder and his administrative team has dealt very little with the psychological traumatization of this community and the crisis in confidence. He is using the science to sidestep the responsibility for dealing with the traumatization of the community.”
He contended there needs to be “some form of therapy to tell people, yes, we can trust the science.” He called for more social workers to talk to residents about the test results and said there should be more “third-party validation” of the science. Neeley called the decision “cruel and concerning.”
Ari Adler, spokesperson for Snyder, acknowledged the lack of confidence, saying that is exactly why the state will continue offering water filters and replacement cartridges.
“We have a large supply of those, so those will be available for quite some time,” Adler said. “There is still that confidence gap there. And that is where we are allowing those filters to continue.”
Last July, the state struck an agreement with Flint and its community leaders that, as the state closed five PODs, it would continue operation of the remaining four “indefinitely.” But Adler said they were not intended to be permanent.
“Remember, under the court settlement, we didn’t have to continue providing bottled water, but we did. The idea there was we would shrink back because it wasn’t needed as much, so we did shrink the number of PODs available,” he said. “Now that the water quality has been restored, we are going to go ahead and let that water run out and shut down the PODs.”
Preliminary data for the first half of the current six-month monitoring period, Snyder’s announcement stated, showed that 90 percent of the high-risk samples were at or below 4 parts per billion (ppb) for lead, below the federal standard of 15 ppb.
Tests for July to December 2017 showed lead at 6 ppb with 94 percent of the samples at or below the 15 ppb federal action level for lead. Federal regulations require that at least 90 percent of tests come in at or below 15 ppb. This includes homes that have a lead service line.
“Bottled water may be ending but the state’s commitment to the residents of Flint remains strong,” said Rich Baird, Snyder’s transformation manager and the team leader for the state’s Mission Flint Office… Nearly two years of scientific data shows that Flint’s water system is stable and confirms the suitability of water in Flint for drinking.”
The ultimate solution is replacement of lead service lines to homes. Testing data shows that 100 percent of the samples collected were below 15 ppb after service line replacement was completed. So far, service lines have been replaced at over 6,200 residences.
U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint Twp.) said the bottled water should remain available for residents until all of those lead service lines are replaced.
“Flint families rightfully still do not trust state government, who created this crisis and lied to our community about the safety of the water,” Kildee said in a statement. “Continuing to provide bottled water service until all lead service lines are replaced will give peace of mind to residents and help restore Flint’s trust in government. Until then, I understand why Flint families still do not trust the water coming out of their taps.”
The cost of operating the four bottled water PODs has averaged just over $650,000 per month, according to Tiffany Brown, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
When all nine PODs were operating, the state put the cost of that at around $1.9 million per month.
This story presented in cooperation with MIRS, a Lansing-based news and information service.