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First lead drinking water line removed in Flint under new program

Mar 4, 2016

It was a symbolic day in Flint on Friday as the city removed its first lead water service line under Mayor Karen Weaver’s “FAST Start” program.

The Mayor wants to remove all the lead water lines in the city under the program. She’s seeking $55 million to fund the program. Right now, they’ve started the program with $2 million from the state. That money was reimbursed to the city after it spent it last fall as part of the payment to reconnect Flint’s water supply to Detroit’s system. Weaver says the state could pay for the rest using its "rainy day" fund.

The city expects 30 homes in the city will have their lead service lines replaced in the coming weeks.

Retired National Guard Brigadier General Michael McDaniel is in charge of the program. He says the money they have now should help pay for a couple hundred more lines to be removed, but the city, he says, has 5,000 lead lines that they know of.

The records in the city are incomplete, so 5,000 lead lines is just a starting number. There could be more.

McDaniel says today’s lead line removal is just the start. He says they’re prioritizing homes with known lead problems and where vulnerable people live – such as pregnant women, kids, and people with compromised immune systems.

Barry Richardson owns the house on the northeast side of Flint where the lead line was removed. At the end of January, Richardson's home tested at 27 parts per billion of lead - that's over the federal action level for lead in drinking water (which is 15 ppb).

“I just want to thank Mayor Weaver for staring the FAST program and getting not only me, but my pregnant fiancé and my daughter fresh clean water finally,” Richardson said during the press conference outside his home, “That way we don’t have to worry about the lead poisoning us, so on behalf of us, thank you, Mayor Weaver for finally getting this started.”

After his statement, the lead drinking water line was pulled from the home. Watch below:

The EPA says it’s testing existing lead drinking water lines in case these lines remain in the city. They’re monitoring the city’s water supply to see whether a protective layer of phosphates is building up in the pipes.

This layer was stripped out of the pipes when the city started drawing the more corrosive Flint River water in the spring of 2014 without properly treating it.

Now that the city is hooked back up to Detroit’s water system, which contains phosphates and draws from Lake Huron, this layer is supposed to build back up in Flint’s pipes and keep lead from leaching into the city’s drinking water supply.

Mayor Weaver has called this approach a “tough sell” for the people living here. She says people in the city will not trust the water until all the lead lines are removed.