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Flint mayor unveils ambitious plan to replace all lead drinking water lines in one year

Feb 9, 2016

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver says the city plans to team up with technical experts from the Lansing Board of Water and Light to replace all the lead lines in one year.

Officials say the Lansing BWL has removed 13,500 lead pipes over the last 12 years at a cost of $42 million.

The Flint lead pipe removal project is estimated to cost $55 million. That’s money the city doesn’t have, so Weaver is calling on the state and Congress to make the money available.

At a press conference in Flint this morning, Weaver said the city has been emotionally traumatized and that they have to replace the pipes to restore trust in the city.

"That’s the only way this community is going to be confident and people will stay here and people will come," she said. "We have to get new pipes."

Gov. Rick Snyder has said in the past that the city should wait and see if the corrosion control now in place will help solve the problem. When asked if she thinks Snyder will support this lead pipe replacement plan, Weaver said he should.

"I cannot imagine that he would not support this plan. If he doesn't, shame on him."

"I cannot imagine that he would not support this plan. If he doesn't, shame on him," said Weaver.

Weaver appointed retired National Guard Brig. Gen. Michael McDaniel to head up the "Flint Action and Sustainability Team," or FAST. McDaniel will work to coordinate the lead pipe removal project.

He says they hope to start pulling lead service lines within a month, and they plan to start with high-risk homes first. Flint officials say those homes include those with:

  • kids under the age of six
  • kids who have elevated lead levels
  • pregnant women
  • senior citizens
  • residential day-care facilities
  • people with a compromised immune system
  • homes shown to have high lead levels at the tap

McDaniel says he realizes their one-year timeline is ambitious.

"Is that a lofty goal? Absolutely, and I know that. But sometimes you got to set your sights high to get things moving forward," he said. "And that’s what we’re doing here."

Is this the best plan?

Marc Edwards at Virginia Tech and other drinking water researchers have found that lead pipe replacement projects can do more harm that good. It was found that lead levels in some kids in Washington D.C. increased after a lead pipe replacement project in that city.

More from Rebecca Renner of Environmental Health Perspectives:

“There is no doubt that partial lead service line replacements can result in significantly elevated levels of lead in tap water and that this contamination can continue for weeks and months, particularly in situations where [drinking water] corrosion control is not optimized,” says EPA chemist Michael Schock. “Why and where these high levels occur is still the topic of research, but their occurrence is fact.”

McDaniel says he's been doing a lot of reading about this over the last week, and that he's read about what happened in Washington D.C.

"There are some distinct differences between Flint and Washington D.C.," said McDaniel.

He said there are two ways more contamination can be caused in these replacement projects. One is excessive vibration when pulling the lead lines. This can shake lead loose and increase the amount in the drinking water. The other problem, he said, is leaving lead lines behind – a partial replacement project –this can cause two different metals to react in the system and lead to more lead in the water.

McDaniel says their plan is to replace all the drinking water lines that contain lead.