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Flint might have a bigger problem with lead pipes than previously thought

Sep 29, 2016

New research suggests there may be many more lead service lines in Flint that need to be replaced than previously thought.

A team of University of Michigan researchers examined 171 drinking water service lines removed as part of Flint’s “Fast Start” program. The pipes had connected homes to city water mains.

Based on the city's records, they expected around 40% of them would contain lead, but they found 96% did.

More from a summary of findings by the U of M researchers:

…we can now conclude from this dataset that the city records are highly inaccurate and incomplete. But the bad news is that lead has been found in nearly every home that has had its service line excavated, and nearly all of the lead pipes were found in the public portion of the line. These findings differed dramatically from the city records, which indicated that 40% contained lead; 55% were made of copper, galvanized steel, or another non-lead material; and 15% had a blank record.

U of M assistant professor Jacob Abernethy says the data suggests the city’s records can’t be trusted.

"Half of Flint may have their water served through a pipe that is made of lead."

“The records are not trustworthy to the extent that we’d thought they’d be in terms of estimating how much lead there’d be,” says Abernethy.

The U of M team says instead of needing to remove up to 10,000 lead service lines, Flint officials may need to remove 20,000 to 25,000 lead lines.

“Half of Flint may have their water served through a pipe that is made of lead,” says Abernethy.

Flint has $27 million to remove damaged pipes leaching lead into the drinking water. The researchers say that amount was expected to cover only half of the expected 10,000 lead service line replacements.

These new estimates show that the city might need much more than that to remove all the lead service lines in the city. 

More from their summary:

The Michigan state government directed $27M for the Fast Start program to replace lead service lines (LSLs), but this amount was based on early estimates of the number of LSLs. Now that over 150 of the pipes have been replaced, a better estimate suggests the number of LSLs is many more times than initially thought. The $27M will only solve a small fraction of the problem