WASHINGTON ― The Michigan state government declared Friday that water in the city of Flint has been “restored” and is as safe for drinking as municipal tap water in other American cities.
The government also announced that it would no longer provide bottled water through distribution centers and that “deliveries will end once the current supply of state-funded bottled water is exhausted.”
“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,” Gov. Rick Snyder (R) said in a release.
Flint’s water had been contaminated with high levels of lead, a deadly neurotoxin, following treatment mistakes in 2014. After initially denying the problem, Synder’s government admitted its mistake when research showed higher blood levels in Flint children.
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a Flint pediatrician who led the research exposing elevated blood lead in Flint kids, said it’s too early to end bottled water distribution.
“This is wrong,” Hanna-Attisha tweeted. “Until all lead pipes are replaced, state should make available bottled water and filters to Flint residents.”
Like many American cities, Flint has a lot of homes that are connected to water mains via service lines made from lead. The water crisis occurred because the state failed to ensure proper water treatment to prevent the water from excessively corroding the service lines.
Rather than dig up and replace the lead pipes serving 7 to 10 million homes across the U.S., federal regulations tell states to try to reduce the corrosiveness of the drinking water.
In the wake of its water crisis, the city of Flint has undertaken an aggressive regime of pipe replacement that won’t be completed for several years. Fully replacing a service line typically involves tearing up both the street and yard in front of a home at a cost of thousands of dollars. Hanna-Attisha pointed out that research has shown the work of replacing service lines can temporarily spike lead levels because of how it jostles the pipes.
Any home with a lead service line could have lead in its tap water, though plumbing fixtures can also contribute small amounts of the heavy metal as well.
Under state guidance, local governments gauge lead levels in tap water by taking samples from people’s homes. Flint’s water has actually exceeded federal standards for two years, but before Friday, the city hadn’t made such a bold declaration about the water’s safety.
Though his own analysis of Flint’s water has shown similar progress, Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech civil engineer who helped expose Flint’s water lead problem, said the government’s initial response badly hurt its credibility.
“It is reasonable to believe that many Flint residents will never trust the government again,” Edwards said in an email.
The Environmental Protection Agency has long been considering changes to the regulation that failed to prevent the Flint water crisis, but EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has continued the pattern of delaying proposed revisions.
This story has been updated to include a comment from Marc Edwards.