Oct 02, 2015

Groups Petition EPA for Emergency Response to Drinking Water Contamination

The groups claim city and state agencies have failed to fix the public health crisis in Flint, Mich.

Flint Michigan lead drinking water EPA

In response to the ongoing drinking water crisis in Flint, Mich., a coalition of local citizens and national groups petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take emergency action to secure safe, lead-free water for the city’s children and families.

Flint-based Coalition for Clean Water, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, and the Natural Resources Defense Council joined the petition to trigger the EPA to launch a comprehensive federal response to the ongoing crisis. Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the EPA is empowered to stop “imminent and substantial endangerment to human health” such as the elevated lead levels in Flint’s drinking water.

The petition urges that EPA immediately order the city and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to reconnect Flint’s water system with water from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, and to provide Flint residents with an alternative, free source of safe drinking water that meets EPA standards, among other requests.

“Neither the city of Flint nor the state of Michigan is doing enough to fix the problem of lead in our drinking water. As evidenced by the ongoing poisoning of the children of Flint, it’s time for the EPA to take immediate action to provide us with a safe water source,” said LeeAnne Walters, a concerned parent from Flint and member of the Water You Fighting For, one of the organizations petitioning the EPA. “The city and state need to test for lead and copper as intended by the federal lead and copper rule.”

Highly corrosive water in the Flint River, the source of the city’s drinking water, has been flowing through lead service lines in Flint’s water system for more than a year. A medical study has confirmed that the number of children living in Flint with elevated blood lead levels has risen since the city switched its water source. One study of Flint children younger than age 5 found that the proportion of children living in Flint with elevated blood levels has doubled since the city changed its drinking water source. Those younger than 15 months old had lead levels elevated 2.5 times greater after the switch to Flint River water.

The city of Flint and the state DEQ have been made aware of tap water monitoring results showing high lead levels in homes served by the city’s drinking water system for months, but neither has taken the action necessary to address the problem. The group also cites issues with how the city was testing for lead in a way that appears to downplay the extent of the problem.

Until Flint restores a safe drinking water source that meets EPA standards, residents are advised to take the following steps: 

  • Flush faucets by running water for a minimum of five minutes prior to consumption;
  • Use only cold water from taps for drinking and cooking, as warm or hot water is more likely to contain higher levels of lead;
  • Install and use water filters that are certified to remove lead by NSF Intl. (labeled as meeting NSF Standard 53 for lead removal), and regularly change the filter cartridges; and
  • Use only filtered or bottled water to prepare baby formula and food. Children, pregnant or nursing women should also use filtered or bottled water for drinking and cooking.

In addition, residents should consider taking the following additional steps where possible:

  • Remove and clean individual faucet aerators, as lead particles and sediment can collect in the aerator screen located at the faucets;
  • Contact a licensed plumber to replace any household plumbing that may contain lead; and
  • Flush cold water taps after installing any new household pipes or fixtures.

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