It appears that what happened in Flint, Michigan may only be the tip of the iceberg. The Guardian reports that a great many documents show that cities and even states around the country are using bad protocols when testing for lead contamination in drinking water supplies in order to make the levels appear lower than they actually are. This is rather disturbing news.
Water authorities across the US are systematically distorting water tests to downplay the amount of lead in samples, risking a dangerous spread of the toxic water crisis that has gripped Flint, documents seen by the Guardian show.
The controversial approach to water testing is so widespread that it occurs in “every major US city east of the Mississippi” according to an anonymous source with extensive knowledge of the lead and copper regulations. “By word of mouth, this has become the thing to do in the water industry. The logical conclusion is that millions of people’s drinking water is potentially unsafe,” he said…
Dr Yanna Lambrinidou, a Virginia Tech academic, has disclosed what she considers to be evidence of deceptive practices by city water authorities after she sat on an EPA taskforce that reviewed federal rules on lead and copper poisoning that have been in place since 1991…
The documents were obtained by Lambrinidou under freedom of information laws and direct requests to water authorities.
They show that several cities have advised residents to use questionable methods when conducting official tests for lead content. These include encouraging testers to run taps for several minutes to flush out lead from the pipes or even removing the filter from taps. Such methods have been criticized by the EPA for not providing accurate results, with the agency telling authorities not to use them.The Philadelphia water department’s instructions to residents in November last year were to “remove the aerator from the faucet. Leave the aerator off until sampling is completed”. This practice was deemed “against the intent of the monitoring protocol” in 2008 by the EPA, which advised against in 2006.
In an email to Lambrinidou in November 2015, a senior official at Philadelphia Water said: “We are trying to stay up on the latest science as best we can. We get confused by it and wish that a national forum of experts could get together and agree. But it’s often left to us to try and make sense out of everything that is published and talked about.”
Philadelphia also asks testers to “run only the cold water for two minutes” before taking a water sample. This practice of “pre-flushing” the pipes before testing water is repeated in instructions given to Michigan residents, between 2007 and 2015, by cities including Detroit, which requires water to be run for five minutes before testing, Grand Rapids, Andover, Muskegon, Holland and Jackson.
Rhode Island department of health documents ask testing residents to run their water “until cold” before sampling. In an email to Lambrinidou, a senior environmental scientist at the department said: “I know that the idea of flushing six hours prior is controversial but, as of now, within the regulations.”
Given how dangerous lead is, especially how it stunts the development of children and leads to serious problems, this should be a top priority. If the EPA isn’t going to ensure that the results of such testing is accurate, we have a serious problem.