New tests show some homes in Flint have lead levels 10x the federal action limit

Jan 29, 2016

State and federal officials say water tests at some homes in Flint are coming in at 150 parts per billion or more for lead. That’s ten times the federal action level of 15 parts per billion.

They say they're still testing homes, and of the 4,000 samples collected since December, 26 had levels at 150 parts per billion or higher. In at least one case, the home’s drinking water tested at 4,000 parts per billion. 

Dr. Nicole Lurie is leading the federal response to the water crisis for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

“We aren’t completely sure why,” Lurie told a hastily called news conference at Flint City Hall this evening. “It could be the way the samples were collected.”

Officials say the homeowners have been advised and the homes are being retested.

“If you’re a Flint resident, be sure to get your water tested,” Gov. Rick Snyder tweeted during the press conference at Flint City Hall.

Since last year, the state has been handing out water filters designed to remove lead. The filters are certified to screen out lead up to 150 parts per billion. Officials say special filters are not enough in some Flint homes to screen out high levels of lead in the drinking water.

Mark Durno is with the EPA. He’s the onsite coordinator for the federal response to Flint’s water crisis.

“We’re telling you we still have confidence in the filters,” says Durno, adding, “if you have not had your water tested, get it tested now.”

“We’re telling you we still have confidence in the filters,” says the EPA's Mark Durno, adding: “If you have not had your water tested, get it tested now.”
Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The problem began back in April, 2014, when the city’s drinking water source was switched from the Detroit system to the Flint River. Without corrosion controls, the river water ate away at the city’s pipes.  The damaged pipes have been leaching lead into the drinking water. 

The city switched back to Detroit water in October. It’s been hoped that the switch would allow a protective layer within the pipe to reform and contain the lead. 

A Virginia Tech professor who helped expose the lead problem in Flint's water, despite initial skepticism from state regulators, says he's not surprised by some high lead readings officials just announced.

Marc Edwards said the city's water system is still recovering after being without corrosion control for 18 months.

The city has hired Edwards to oversee water testing. He also was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder to a committee that will set in place long-term solutions.

Lathan Jefferson listened to the news conference at city hall. He’s skeptical about assurances that the water filters will work. 

“It’s going to take them going in and putting new pipes in,” says Jefferson. But that’s going to be a long process that has not even begun. Meanwhile, Flint residents are still being urged to use the filters. Many ignore the filters and just drink bottled water.

*This post was last updated at 10:20 p.m.