U-M study: More than 8,000 lead service lines in Flint

City records still do not show the make-up of roughly 13,000 services lines, including 11,000 residential lines, some of which could be lead.

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University of Michigan-Flint researchers completed a month-long compilation of information about lead service lines in the city of Flint. Picture here is what lead lines look like in one city neighborhood.

By Detroit Free Press

The city of Flint has more than 8,000 lead service lines, based on a comprehensive study of city records, a University of Michigan-Flint professor said today.

“This project is the complete mapping of all of the known service line data of 56,000 homes and business in city of Flint,” Marty Kaufman, chairman of the Earth and Resource Science Department at the University of Michigan-Flint, said today.

But Kaufman added that the records still do not show the make-up of roughly 13,000 services lines, including 11,000 residential lines, some of which could be lead. He estimated that a total of more than 8,000 lines are likely to be lead based in part on the average age of the city’s homes: 74 years old. More than 23,000 homes were built before 1950, according to Kaufman.

There are 4,376 known lead service lines in the city, according to the University of Michigan-Flint analysis of city hand-written records, paper maps and scanned images provided to Mayor Karen Weaver today. Kaufman estimates the city has an additional 4,000 lead service lines, bringing the total to more than 8,000.

The latest estimate of what many believe is the root cause of Flint’s drinking water crisis came as city and state officials appear to be forging their own path on how to identify the location of lead pipes in the city, assess their condition and plot their replacement.

State officials led by Gov. Rick Snyder have called for some lead line replacement in Flint after the condition of the system has been assessed and the location of lead lines determined.

Based on information gathered from the city of Flint, the Snyder administration currently estimates 5,000 properties have lead services lines and an additional 10,000 properties have service lines of an unknown make that need to be physically inspected. The estimates do not include vacant properties.

“The state welcomes any assistance the University of Michigan is now willing to provide the state and city on this issue,” Snyder spokeswoman Laura Biehl said in an email today. “The state also is reviewing the city’s data regarding lead lines and following up with site visits to confirm the information.”

But she cautioned that early indications cast doubt on the reliability of the city’s data. “In our initial investigations, we have found that approximately 75% of the parcels marked by the city as having lead pipes do not have them when we inspect the part of the lines into the homes,” Biehl said.

If the estimate of 8,000 lead service lines is correct, the governor’s office said today that the total replacement costs would be $24 million, which could be covered by the governor’s budget request of $25 million, still pending in the state Legislature.

Weaver however has been pushing a $55-million “Fast Start” funding package to begin to replace all of the city’s lead service lines immediately, based on the efforts in the city of Lansing to switch out its lead-based water lines.

“The people of Flint have suffered long enough. This is a public emergency and this is an economic crisis,” Weaver told reporters at today’s news conference at Flint City Hall. “I won’t rest until every single lead line is removed and the people of Flint deserve no less.”

The Lansing Board of Water and Light is expected to start training local Flint workers this week on lead pipe removal at a vacant property in Flint owned by the Genesee County Land Bank. Afterward, house-by-house lead service line removal and replacement operations targeting high-risk households across the city will begin, she said.

During the training, the Lansing public works department is expected to demonstrate its technology for removing and replacing lead pipes with new copper pipes in half the time and at half the cost of traditional methods, according to Weaver. The Lansing public water and electric utility has refined its technique by removing more than 13,500 lead pipes in Michigan’s capital city over the last 12 years, city officials said.

Weaver said she is also working closely with the White House and Flint’s representatives in the Michigan Legislature and U.S. Congress to secure full funding for her lead pipe removal project, as well as long-term funding to fully repair the city’s water-distribution system. She called on state and federal lawmakers to move quickly to approve emergency funding for her project while long-term repairs to Flint’s water-distribution system are evaluated.

If funding to ramp up her Fast Start project is not secured quickly from the state or federal government, Weaver has said she may have to take her case directly to the national and international audience.

Snyder and Weaver — already at odds over how quickly Flint’s lead service lines that carry drinking water to homes should be replaced — are also split over Snyder’s choice of an engineering firm that a state document says helped prepare the city before its botched switch to using Flint River water.

Flint’s switch to using the Flint River as its water supply in April 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.

Flint is now under a state of emergency because of elevated lead levels that continue to be found in drinking water supplied to city residents. Officials in the Snyder administration have said that they hope to restore drinking water to the city in stages, with a full assessment of the system completed by mid-April. Residents have been cautioned to use lead filters or drink bottled water.

After testing roughly 10,000 Flint homes since September, the state has found hundreds with lead levels that still exceed the federal safety standard, according to the most recent compilation from state officials. Samples from 175 Flint residences designated as “sentinel sites” showed 19 samples, or 10.9%, exceeded the federal action level of 15 parts per billion, state officials said today.

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