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EPA setting up new test for lead pipes in Flint

Mar 1, 2016

Brian Kelly, On-Scene Coordinator with the EPA, by a pipe rig.
Credit Mark Durno / EPA

There’s all kinds of testing going on in Flint to try to figure out what’s happening in the drinking water system. The state and the Environmental Protection Agency are each doing different kinds of tests.

The EPA is about to launch a new kind of test. It’s called a pipe rig.

Mark Durno is an On-Scene Coordinator with the EPA. He says they’ve hooked up four of these pipe rigs to test the treated water leaving the drinking water plant.

“A pipe rig is a large apparatus that’s tied into the effluent pipes coming from the drinking water treatment plant,” he says.

Durno says the city will dig up some lead service lines, and then the EPA will put some of those lines in the pipe rig to test them.

Phosphates are added to the water to coat the inside of the pipes. That should eventually keep the pipes from corroding, and keep lead out of the water (Flint didn't control for corrosion after switching to the Flint River in 2014, and lead leached out of the aging infrastructure and got into people's drinking water).

Durno says they’ll use the pipe rig to see how well that protective layer is forming.

“What the pipe rigs are established to do is actually give us real time water quality data coming off the plant. So we’ll be monitoring concentrations of phosphate in the water, and we’ll evaluate how well the pipes are getting coated with this phosphate material,” he says.

He says the information they get from the tests will help them say when Flint’s water system is in better shape. Durno says they'll also have to evaluate the quality of the water at faucets in people's homes.

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver wants to remove all of the city’s lead service lines. That’s expected to start later this week.

But Durno says the EPA will still keep testing the water leaving the treatment plant.

“We’re working under the premise that there are service lines that are going to be in the ground for a long period of time. Now, if that changes and somehow funding is provided, and work is accomplished to rapidly remove lead service lines, that might change the game but there’s no guarantees,” he says.

He says he expects the testing to start in about three weeks.