LANSING — A University of Michigan-Flint professor said today that the city had more than 8,000 old lead pipes running from water mains to homes and businesses, an estimate the mayor planned to use in ultimately replacing all of the service lines.
Dr Marty Kaufman’s team analysed Flint’s handwritten records, paper maps, and scanned images to create a digital database of pipes in the city.
State regulators failed to require Flint to treat river water with anti-corrosion chemicals when its water source was switched in 2014, allowing lead to be scraped from aging pipes and into drinking water.
The numbers and locations of lead service lines in Flint is significant because Mayor Karen Weaver, who appeared with Kaufman during a news conference at City Hall, wants them removed as quickly as possible, for $2,000 to $3,000 per pipe.
“The people of Flint have suffered long enough,” she said. “This is a public health emergency, and this is an economic crisis. People won’t buy homes or even feel comfortable in our restaurants until every lead service line is removed, and this is an important step toward returning confidence
Kaufman stressed that while the project was a full compilation of available data, the records, which were compiled from a 1984 survey, did not always indicate the types of pipes used. His team identified 4,376 known lead service pipes and estimated 4,000 plus more based on an analysis of missing data.
Flint homes on average are 74 years old, he said, and more than 23,000 were built before 1950.
Governor Rick Snyder, whose administration is spending up to $500,000 for a Flint engineering company to help locate pipes, estimates there are at least 5,200 lead lines. About 25,000 are not lead while another 10,000 are unknown, according to Snyder.
He welcomed the university’s database but also said the paper records on which the study is based “are not the most reliable”, citing instances where lines were said to be lead but were not, and vice versa.
“We want to take that work and overlay it to see how it overlays with the work that had previously been done,” Snyder told reporters at the state’s new Emergency Operations Centre in Lansing, where he released the results of an initial round of lead tests at key Flint sites.
The governor last week announced that Flint would receive $2 million to help with pipe replacement costs in the next month, intended as a reimbursement for what the city paid last fall toward reconnecting with Detroit’s water system until a new pipeline to Lake Huron is built. He also is seeking $25 million from lawmakers to replace lines, potentially more once officials better determine how many pipes there are. Weaver wants $55 million.
Snyder said 89 per cent of water samples collected from “sentinel” sites in Flint measured below the action level of 15 parts per billion for lead, but concerns remain. Eleven per cent of 175 samples exceeded the actionable level, including five homes above 100 parts per billion of lead.
The data is being collected over a two-month period at the same sites every two weeks.
Utilities are required to show water from customers’ taps does not exceed the action level in at least 90 per cent of homes sampled.
Interim Michigan Department of Environmental quality director Keith Creagh said the sentinel results would be “one of the primary information sources” used to determine if water could be used again without filters.