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Water and Sanitation

What We Learned from the Flint Crisis

Until the catastrophe in Flint, MI, contaminated drinking water was a problem many thought only happened in third world communities. Unfortunately, we now know that many other American communities are facing problems with water contaminants. While that certainly sounds like bad news, the good news is that there are proactive steps individuals can take to ensure their water is safe. 

What really happened?

The water crisis in Flint occurred when the city began sourcing its water from the Flint River, which has high levels of corrosive chloride. Since no steps were taken to protect pipes with an anti-corrosive agent, the water began to leach iron and lead into the water.

If the city had treated it to begin with, the water would have been fine. Since they didn’t, Flint residents were exposed to lead levels far above what is acceptable to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

DIY water treatment

Once lead levels in Flint’s water supply were confirmed, and the Hurley Medical Center found a doubling of blood lead levels citywide in Flint children, President Obama signed an Emergency Declaration on January 16, specifically calling for, “[Providing] water, water filters, water filter cartridges, water treat kits and other necessary related items.”

As a result, thousands of water treatment devices were donated to Flint and installed in resident’s homes to reduce lead and work as a safeguard. The experience in Flint showed how certified water treatment devices could provide a feasible, immediate solution. Though pollutants like lead can appear in the water supply, treatments do exist to remove common contaminants, and water treatment devices installed at the tap or whole house can ensure that water is safe.

Working toward prevention

To monitor for pollutants, the EPA sets allowable concentrations of health contaminants and requires public water systems to follow testing and monitoring procedures to make sure these contaminants do not exceed certain levels. In addition, under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the EPA issues a new list of unregulated contaminants once every five years for participating public water systems to monitor.

In terms of infrastructure, a recent analysis by the American Water Works Association found that the country is making progress in the effort to replace lead service lines, though there is still updating that needs to occur.

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