lead

Some Grand Rapids homes are about to get a lot safer.

The city is among 23 state and local agencies across the country to receive Lead Based Paint Hazard Control grants from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Lead paint has been banned from use in housing since 1978, but it's still on the walls and woodwork in many older Michigan homes.

"It was marketed as 'the good paint', so if you cared about your home, then you used it," said Doug Stek, who directs hazard control projects for the City of Grand Rapids.

There are several potential sources of lead in your home plumbing that can get into your drinking water.

  • The service line connecting the water main to your house could be made out of lead
  • The solder in your plumbing could have lead in it
  • And older brass faucets and valves can contain lead

So how do you figure out what you have in your house?

This question has been nagging at me for some time. At our house, we drink the water straight from the tap.

The University of Michigan says it's testing the drinking water on its Ann Arbor campus for lead and copper.

The school say it's just a precautionary measure, adding there’s no indication anything’s wrong with the water.

This kind of system-wide testing is becoming more common after the Flint water crisis.

Flint isn't alone when it comes to problems with lead-contaminated tap water.

A new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council says more than 5,000 water systems around the country had lead violations in 2015.

That comes out to more than 18 million Americans who were served by lead-contaminated water systems last year.

The report, which analyzed data from the Environmental Protection Agency, may not even show how big the problem really is, according to Erik Olson with the NRDC.

A recent study published in Environmental Monitoring and Assessments finds turtles are getting doses of heavy metals such as lead and copper.

Matt Cooper is one of the co-authors of this study. He’s a research scientist at Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin.

Drinking fountains in two buildings on Wayne State University's campus have tested positive for lead, according to university officials. In a letter to the campus community, the university said it had tested water in 11 campus buildings, and found lead above the EPA action levels in two buildings – the College of Education Building and the Meyer L. Prentis Cancer Center Building.

The water inlets to the buildings were free of lead. The affected fountains have been shut off, and the University says it will test all other drinking water sources on campus as soon as possible. 

Drinking lead-tainted water is out of the question, as is cooking with it and bathing in it. But what about gardening? Is it safe to water your garden with leaded water through a hose without a filter?

Michigan would have the toughest lead testing standard in the nation under a sweeping proposal unveiled today in Flint, where the drinking water is still contaminated with lead and residents remain dependent on bottled water donations.

To make sure other Michigan cities don’t suffer the same fate, Gov. Rick Snyder and a team of experts have unveiled a plan to tighten water testing regulations and lower the threshold for action.   

One of the most critical points in discovering the full extent of Flint’s water crisis was a study of blood-lead levels in Flint children.

That study, by pediatrician Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, found that after the city switched to the Flint River for its drinking water, lead levels in the blood of Flint’s kids doubled. Since then, Hanna-Attisha has become internationally famous, using the attention to fight for the lead-poisoned children of Flint.

But it’s possible she wouldn't have thought to check those blood-lead levels without the help of an old friend from the ninth grade.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

The Food Bank of Eastern Michigan has had to swing into high gear in the wake of the Flint water crisis.

“We traditionally did about 1.6 million pounds out of the food bank, in January of 2015,” said president Bill Kerr. “This year we did over 3 million pounds.”

Kerr says water accounted for the increase, with about 1.4 million pounds of water distributed at 140 sites last month.

Now, Kerr says the food bank is tweaking its operations again.

It’s been almost four months since Flint went back to buying water from Detroit’s water system.

Here’s the good news: Since January, more than 90 percent of water tests have come back below the federal action level for lead of 15 parts per billion.

But there are still some insanely high lead levels in some homes. Take a look at a map of where those are, and you'll see there’s no pattern.

Lead pipes
Mitch Barrie / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The Flint water crisis has attracted attention and outrage from all over the globe, but unfortunately, the city of Flint isn’t the first to have its population affected by lead.

Due to the age and condition of lead water lines, it’s entirely possible that other cities around the country are currently suffering from elevated lead levels.

The most recent large-scale example of lead poisoning was discovered in 2001 in Washington D.C.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced yesterday afternoon they’ve sent a “public health strike team” to Flint.

HHS says it has sent in more than a dozen officers with the Commissioned Corps. That’s a uniformed service of public health experts.

They’ll be doing follow-up medical visits with kids whose tests have come back with elevated levels of lead in their blood.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A team of people at University of Michigan’s Flint campus is almost done converting old, paper records into digital records that show which homes have lead service lines. The team has been working on it for a couple of weeks now, and should have the information by the end of this week.

State and federal officials have been after the information because they need it to help determine when Flint’s water will be safe to drink again.

Mercedes Mejia

Like many residents of Flint, She'a Cobb doesn't trust the water that comes out of her faucets. So now, every day is a carefully orchestrated one — from brushing her teeth to taking a shower.

Cobb is a 31-year old bus driver who lives with her daughter and mother in Flint, a struggling blue-collar town where 40% of people live in poverty.

Credit Flickr user David Salafia/Flickr / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Researchers are looking into the possible ripple effects of lead exposure. 

After the city of Flint switched to the Flint River for its drinking water, experts found the number of kids with elevated levels of lead in their blood doubled.

Even low levels of lead can cause kids to lose IQ points and end up with behavior problems.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan State troopers and volunteers are knocking on doors in Flint, handing out bottled water, water filters, and lead testing kits.

The city and state have been offering the water and kits for months. But many people say it’s difficult for them to travel, especially during the winter.

Lt. David Kaiser says the door-to-door outreach is part of a larger effort to help people in Flint get the clean water they need.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A Flint museum is opening a new exhibit later this month that will take a close look at the city’s drinking water crisis.

When Sloan Museum executive director Todd Slisher booked the national traveling exhibit “Water’s Extreme Journey” nearly two years ago, he had no idea of the crisis that would soon grip Flint.

The city’s disastrous switch to the Flint River ended up damaging the city’s water system and led to health concerns.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Officials are now going door to door in Flint handing out water filters.

Genesee County reserve sheriff’s deputies started knocking on doors just after 10 am in a neighborhood on the city’s north side.  If someone answers, deputies  hand out bottled water and filters to homeowners who need them. 

While thousands of water filters have been handed out, many people in Flint are still not using them to filter lead from their drinking water.

Sheriff Robert Pickell says the homes in this neighborhood are some of the oldest in town, with some dating back to 1900. 

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Flint’s contaminated drinking water is now the subject of an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department.

Gina Balaya is a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Michigan. She confirmed the investigation today. 

“(The U.S. Attorney’s office) is working closely with the EPA” on the investigation "to address the concerns of Flint residents," says Balaya.  

She declined to comment further on the investigation.

Tap water in a Flint hospital on Oct. 16, 2015.
Joyce Zhu / Flintwaterstudy.org

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant has resigned because of the agency's role in the Flint water crisis.

But will more state officials resign in the near future and why does all of this matter?

Michigan Radio's Kyle Norris talks with Rick Pluta, the State Capitol Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network, about Wyant's resignation.

Listen here:

  

Tap water in a Flint hospital on Oct. 16, 2015.
Joyce Zhu / Flintwaterstudy.org

Preliminary findings from Michigan’s independent Auditor General give more details about the Flint water crisis.

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.

An annual report from the Public Interest Research Group on potentially hazardous toys highlights some big safety improvements—and new dangers.

PIRG’s annual survey examined hundreds of toys for a number of potential hazards.

None of the toys this year tested positive for lead, but three did test positive for another restricted metal—chromium.

Dr. Jaime Hope, an emergency medicine specialist at Beaumont Hospital, says regulations are making some toy makers more creative.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Dozens of families turned up for free blood lead level testing in Flint today.

Nurses tried to soothe the fears of toddlers, telling them “it’s just a little poke” before using a small lancet to prick the child’s finger.   

Many of the children were not soothed. But many parents hope the clinic will ease some of their worries.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Flint school officials will hold a lead education session next week.

Preliminary tests showed 4 of 13 Flint schools had lead levels in their drinking water at or above the federal action level. Results from more in-depth testing should be released next week.

Next Thursday, Flint Community Schools, along with the Genesee County Health Department will hold an information session for parents of children five and under.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Beginning next month, the city of Flint plans to again disconnect water customers who aren’t paying their bills. 

The first shutoff notices are going out this week.

This summer, Judge Archie Hayman judge ordered Flint to stop shutting off water service to delinquent customers. The judge found Flint illegally raised rates by 35% in 2011. As part of his ruling, the judge ordered the city to roll back the water rates and stop disconnecting people who had run up unpaid bills under the old rate structure. 

Flint water treatment plant
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will conduct a full review of the actions taken to address drinking water quality issues in Flint. It is expected to be completed by the end of this week, with results released next week.

EPA regional administrator Susan Hedman said in a Nov. 3 letter to U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint, that she was asked by the head of the federal agency to carry out the review.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Flint Congressman Dan Kildee says he met with top federal officials yesterday to discuss Flint’s water problems.

Kildee told a town hall conference call last night about the meetings with officials from the EPA and the Centers for Disease Control.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Flint residents concerned about the safety of their drinking water will have an opportunity this evening to get answers to their questions.

Flint Congressman Dan Kildee is hosting a telephone town hall tonight starting at 7. Here’s a link to participate.

Kildee will be joined by researchers who discovered rising lead levels in the tap water in some Flint homes and in the blood of many Flint children.

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