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Flint fights lead in drinking water by adding more phosphates

Dec 10, 2015

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, right, and City Administrator Natasha Henderson announce plans to increase the use of phosphates in Flint's drinking water and new testing of lead service lines.
Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The city of Flint is taking new steps to reduce lead in the city’s drinking water.

Flint is adding phosphates to water it gets from Detroit. Detroit already adds phosphates to the water to make it less corrosive to pipes. 

Flint Utilities Administrator Mike Glasgow says adding more phosphates to the water should help create a biofilm within the city’s water pipes. 

“That should help alleviate our lead issues out in the system,” says Glasgow.

Glasgow says it may take two to six months before the city will see dramatic improvements to lead levels in the water. 

The city’s use of the corrosive Flint River for 18 months damaged water pipes and led to higher lead levels in Flint’s drinking water.   

Researchers from Virginia Tech University found in elevated lead levels in many Flint homes last summer. Virginia Tech researchers estimated using the Flint River water may have aged the city’s water pipes by more than a decade. 

Doctors at Hurley Medical Center discovered blood lead levels in Flint children increased after the city started tapping the Flint River for its drinking water.  

Recently, Virginia Tech professor Marc Edwards said Flint's tap water is still not safe to drink

With help from the state and the Mott Foundation, Flint switched back to Detroit water in October. But problems with lead continue, so Flint is bringing in a company to randomly test 150 lead service lines.   

But one estimate, Flint has roughly 15,000 lead service lines.  

City officials say they will wait to receive the company’s initial test results on the lead service lines before determining their next step.

Mayor Karen Weaver is urging Flint homeowners to cooperate with the testing company if they are contacted. The mayor is also encouraging Flint residents to continue using water filters.