Key Considerations In Flint Water Situation

October 14, 2015
Lynn Thorp

In October 2015, the city of Flint reconnected with Detroit Water. In light of relevations of high lead levels and other operational and contamination issues, this is the best option for Flint at this time. As this process moves forward, the City of Flint, Genessee County, State agencies and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have critical roles to play in protecting public health and restoring confidence in tap water.

Immediate Action to Protect Public Health

The October 6 declaration of a Public Health Emergency by the Genessee County Health Department reflects the critical need to immediately protect Flint residents, especially the most vulnerable including infants and children, from high levels of lead in tap water. Genessee County Health Department, Michigan Department of Health and Human Resources and City of Flint provision of NSF-certified filters for lead removal and bottled water to Flint residents should be maintained and expanded to ensure that vulnerable people are protected until it is confirmed that the switch back to Detroit water has eliminated the need for this program. County and State health officials play a critical role in ensuring that healthcare professionals and the public receive important timely information on protecting their families’ health.  The City of Flint should continue to offer free lead testing for all residents. The City of Flint, MDEQ and EPA should immediately determine how findings of high lead levels in water samples from residences and other locations should be communicated to the Genessee Country Health Department.

Future Decisions About Tap Water in Flint & Preventing Similar Problems in the Future

Any decisions made about the future of water service should be made in consultation with the Technical Advisory Committee and the Citizens Advisory Committee in an open and transparent public process. This is in addition to any actions taken by EPA or MDEQ and should be an ongoing practice in order to ensure better public health protection and to restore public confidence, which has been grievously damaged by recent events.

Federal and State authorities should conduct full investigations in order to identify what went wrong during this process and put in place procedures, guidance and regulations if needed to prevent these failures in the future. Deliberations and findings should be open to the public and public input should be solicited.

Use All Available Authority and Expertise to Address Public Health Risks

NRDC and other organizations have petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to intervene under emergency provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) to abate imminent and substantial endangerment to Flint residents from lead exposure and to address other potential public health risks. Some of the petitioners’ recommended actions have already been taken. We support NRDC et al in their recommendation that EPA use all available authority to ensure that public health is being protected.

October 2015