It’s now been 186 days – over a half a year – since Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder admitted that the drinking water in Flint had been poisoned with the powerful, odorless, tasteless, invisible neurotoxin lead. Since that time, only the lead service lines in only 19 Flint homes have been replaced and that was through the actions of Flint Mayor Karen Weaver’s “Fast Start” program, not through the efforts of the Snyder administration.
Amid all this non-action, the Snyder administration has started to warn municipalities that they should avoid “partial lead service line replacements”:
The state is now recommending that cities avoid replacing only part of a water service line if it’s made of lead. Partial replacements aren’t uncommon.
Typically the municipality only owns part of the line, the part from the water main to the property line. This is the publicly owned portion of the service line. In this case, the part of the line that runs from the public right of way into a home is the privately owned portion of the line.
Usually it’s cities that cover the costs of replacing the public portion of the line. Homeowners would likely have to chip in major money to replace the rest. But many times they can’t or don’t want to pay for it. So only part of the line is replaced.
Research shows that partial replacements can make lead levels in water spike. In 2010, the CDC concluded that partial line replacements in Washington D.C. may have caused more harm than good.
A couple of weeks ago Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality’s director told municipal water systems they should avoid partial replacements. At the same time, the letter encouraged communities to develop “a plan to identify and replace all lead components in the supply’s distribution system, including the privately-owned portion of the service lines.”
Add to this the fact that Flint water lead levels are beginning to drop as the phosphate added to the water for corrosion protection is building up a protective layer on the inside of water lines and it is starting to look as if the Snyder administration is simply waiting until lead levels have dropped enough for Flint residents to begin using their water again. Once that has happened, they could simply point to the data and say, “See? Everything is fine. Nothing to worry about.”
This may sound like a conspiracy theory but I recently received an email from an Eclectablog reader who called Gov. Snyder’s office to ask when they plan to start replacing lead service lines. The answer they got from a constituent services person named John is astonishing:
I asked John when the corroded pipes were going to be replaced and he said that NO PIPES are going to be changed by the state!!!
I was furious and argued that Snyder then gave false testimony as the mayor of Flint and the people of Flint will not trust that water is safe until pipes are changed. He said that the coating in the pipes is making them safe. I argued that the people still cannot shower or drink the water and he said that they could.
The evidence is circumstantial at this point but, taken as a whole, it suggests that the Snyder administration is simply waiting for the phosphate treatment to lower lead levels to a low enough point that they are no longer in violation of federal drinking water regulations and then they’ll walk away from their responsibility for replacing the lead service lines in Flint; ALL of the lead service lines, not just the ones in the public right of way.
If that is, indeed, their intention and they are allowed to get away with it, it will be a travesty beyond words.