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Flint Water Crisis Caused by Toxic Levels of Bureaucracy

Flint Water Crisis Caused by Toxic Levels of Bureaucracy

“This was a disaster 40 years in the making.”

The Environmental Protection Agency has found itself at the center of another environmental crisis.

The epicenter of this particular disaster is Flint, Michigan. It’s drinking water has been contaminated with elevated levels of lead, a fact known to several regulatory agencies for many months. Tragically, instead of protecting people, these officials opted to wring their hands and kick the can down the bureaucratic road.

Michigan resident and conservative activist Lloyd Conway, who lives in a nearby town, summarizes the latest bureaucratic fiasco.

“This disaster has been 40 years in the making,” Conway explained. “Governor Rick Snyder appointed an emergency manager to address Flint’s long time fiscal problems. The manager, looking to reduce costs, opted to start obtaining water from the nearby Flint River instead of paying Detroit for the supply. The river had contaminants from years of auto manufacturing, and acted corrosively on the pipes to leach out the lead.”

Residents noticed the switch quite quickly. Family pets would get ill after drinking the water, and its appearance and odor were such that residents began using bottled water for drinking and bathing.

Instead of finding a solution quickly, a group of bureaucrats handled the complaints by massaging the numbers and lying about the status of system protections.

Lead levels in Flint’s drinking water would have spurred action months sooner if the results of city testing that wrapped up in June had not been revised by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to wrongly indicate the water was safe to drink, e-mails show.

The records — obtained by the Michigan ACLU and by Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech researcher who helped raise concerns about Flint’s water — show how state officials first appear to have encouraged the City of Flint to find water samples with low lead levels and later told Flint officials to disqualify two samples with high readings. The move changed the overall lead level results to acceptable from unacceptable.

The e-mails also show that DEQ district coordinator Stephen Busch told the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Feb. 27 that Flint had “an optimized corrosion control program” to prevent lead from leaching into the drinking water from pipes, connections and fixtures. In fact, the city — disastrously — had no corrosion control program.

How high was the concentration of lead, a compound known to cause anemia, weakness, and kidney and brain damage as well as neurological problems and mental retardation in exposed children? The Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham has summarized the findings of the Virgina Tech group that did the research, and compares them against the level that the EPA deems as “cause for concern”:

LI #12 lead

The professor who conducted the sampling, Dr. Marc Edwards, was in “disbelief.”

“We had never seen such sustained high levels of lead in 25 years of work,” he said.

According to Edwards, the team retested the water with extra quality controls and assurance checks, and obtained the exact same results.

The Virginia Tech Research Team set-up a website with a gallery of graphic images of Flint resident LeeAnne Walters’ tap water containing rust and metal particles large enough to be seen with the naked eye. Walters’ 4-year old son has diagnosed with lead poisoning.

Apparently the federal agency knew about the matter in April, 2015 and opted to remain silent.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s top Midwest official said her department knew as early as April about the lack of corrosion controls in Flint’s water supply — a situation that likely put residents at risk for lead contamination — but said her hands were tied in bringing the information to the public.

Starting with inquiries made in February, the federal agency battled Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality behind the scenes for at least six months over whether Flint needed to use chemical treatments to keep lead lines and plumbing connections from leaching into drinking water. The EPA did not publicize its concern that Flint residents’ health was jeopardized by the state’s insistence that such controls were not required by law.

Instead of moving quickly to verify the concerns or take preventative measures, federal officials opted to prod the DEQ to act, EPA Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman told The Detroit News this week. Hedman said she sought a legal opinion on whether the EPA could force action, but it wasn’t completed until November.

The state didn’t agree to apply corrosion controls until late July and didn’t publicly concede until October that it erroneously applied the federal Lead and Copper Rule overseeing water quality.

President Obama signed an emergency declaration Saturday that clears the way for federal aid for Flint. However, the President denied the Snyder’s disaster declaration request based on the legal requirement that such relief is intended for natural events, fires, floods or explosions. Michigan’s governor is considering an appeal, given the magnitude of the problem.

“Snyder is leading from behind,” Conway noted. “I would suggest he lead from the front, like Rudy Giuliani did with 9-11. Snyder needs to move operaions to Flint, pass out the water, and be right there dealing with the situation.”


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Get the lead out by removing the bureaucrats involved, but not before seizing their personal assets. I should not have to pay for the EPA’s enormous liability. Nope.

Litigation will start…now.

The EPA had more serious issues to address, like Climate Change, CO2, ponds and creeks on private property, etc.

The EPA serves no useful purpose. Where is my silent Congressman Lamar Smith who Chairs the Committee that provides “Oversight” over the EPA? Oh, he provides increased funds and more powerful laws. The EPA’s carbon footprint should be set to zero. Send those funds to Flint.

    Bruce Hayden in reply to TX-rifraph. | January 18, 2016 at 2:49 pm

    Don’t know why you expected anything more out of Smith. He showed his colors by ramming through the Leahy–Smith America (dis)Invents Act (AdIA), when he was the House Judiciary Chair. That legislation was bought and paid for (to the tune of better than $100 million in lobbying) by multinational tech companies that wanted to weaken the U.S. patent system, after losing too much money in patent infringement awards for misappropriated technology.

    And, no, he was not an innocent bystander there. Rather, he made sure that only pro-AIA speakers got to speak before the committee, and anti-AIA speakers were ignored. While the pro-AIA forces fielded more than 500 lobbyists in Congress at one point, there were only a handful of us trying to counter them in Congress, and we were not being paid. Rep. Smith wasn’t the only person on that side, but he was one of the most blatant, so blatant that his name is on the legislation.

Wrong. This was, again as usual, an attempt to “cheapen” and privatize led by the 1%er MBA CEO Manager Slick Rick Snyder Whiplash.

    Ragspierre in reply to Chem_Geek. | January 18, 2016 at 9:44 am

    You poor moron. This is EXACTLY what to expect from BIG GOVERNNMENT “protections”.

    Regulators DON’T regulate in the interests of the people they are SUPPOSED to be protecting, as they adopt newer, jazzier agendas that often have little or nothing to do with their original mandate. I’ve seen this all my life.

    The things small government does well, like keeping up infrastructure, become impossible as money is sucked into the maw of BIG GOVERNMENT boondoggles, corruption, and waste.

    Then, too, places like Flint have been actively killing off their own prosperity with their hostility toward all the things that might invite new business into the area, or sustain the ones they had.

    When the poor cat who came in like a fireman in a collapsing building flailed around to do what could be done, it was already way too late.

    Flint will have to get a lot of money from somewhere, and it will likely squander that, given its politics.

      and don’t forget about Al Sharpton’s NAN which has been involved with Flint ($) for a long time…

        NAN’s state political director Sam Riddle.
        Now there’s a crony that fits sharpton’s team well. Let’s check out old sammy shall we? He seems to have gotten work after his release from prison.

        Indicted in July 2009 on federal charges: two counts of conspiracy, three counts of extortion, one count of mail fraud, three counts of bribery, and one count of false statements. He and Conyers extorted money from people seeking City contracts and other approval, including strip clubs, restaurants, a technology company, a pawn shop. Many of the bribes were over $20,000. The maximum sentence for the charges is 20 years in prison.

        Many of the deals were connected to the 2007 Synagro sludge-treatment contract. Others were connected to investments in the Detroit’s General Retirement System.

    tphillip in reply to Chem_Geek. | January 18, 2016 at 10:48 am

    Wow. The EPA and the state government cover up the lead levels, and it’s the fault to those evil, nasty private companies.

    Bernie Sanders, is that you? Or is it one of his Reddit shills?

    Standards for water treatment, distribution and testing have been codified into federal and all 50 state’s laws for decades. The industry best practices around this are well documented… this is a very mature area of engineering practice that is very, very well understood.

    Switching from one supply of water to another is not uncommon, and the fact that doing so had the potential to impact water quality due to different source water quality attributes and differing treatment strategies from one system to the next should be well understood by any qualified water system operator.

    Given what is being reported now, this sounds to me like incompetence on the part of the Flint Water Department and the Michigan Dept Environmental Quality.

    If there was cover-up within the city or State government then we have a conspiracy issue, but until that is demonstrated what we have in incompetence.

    There is PLENTY of federal government regulation and oversight of this industry… this is not something that is going to be fixed with more regulations.

    And crying like a little Marxist bitch that trying to run the city more efficiently is the cause of this problem makes one look like, well, a little Marxist bitch. Municipal water systems all around the USA make cost/benefit choices about water sources and treatment methods every day.

DemocRat government incompetence!!!! I don’t believe Flint has had a GOP Mayor since the 1950’s I think Congressman Don Reigle’s Dad was the last one and his son switched from GOP to DemoncRAT.

Michigan is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Socialist Party (aka Democrat). As seen by the orange river pollution they directly caused, the watermelons at the EPA have no care for people. To the nomenklatura watermelons, the proles are simply here to provide a reason for the bureaucracy to exist.

Chuck, a commenter at Althouse, has some information on this, from living in the area. His discussion starts at 1/17/16, 10:35 PM. Worth reading all of his comments. The part that is most on point for this discussion, is here:

Technically, here is how the lead situation arose.

Water had been piped up from the DWS system, at a rapidly-rising cost (the DWS collections system was a joke, and the future was for a lot of rate increases). So Flint said it would get water from the Flint River. They drew Flint River water in, treated it, and then distributed it within the city. They tested the Flint River water where it was treated, and it was fine. But as the treated water went through the system, it leached lead from local lines and homeowners’ old lead plumbing. So that water that tested fine eventually was laced with unacceptable levels of lead when it cam out of the tap in many scattered homes. The reason for the local leaching was because Flint River water is very high in chloride. Not in itself harmful, the chloride is chemically corrosive to iron pipe and lead solder joints. Detroit, like many places, uses a corrosion-inhibitor called orthophosphate to control those processes and effects in its water system. It isn’t even particularly expensive. But Flint River water is really, really high in chloride content.

It’s all a technical problem to be handled by mid-level water quality experts. It’s a ministerial thing and not a governor-level decision. It should have been caught earlier, but it wasn’t.

1/18/16, 12:23 AM

I thought this was all very interesting.

    Thank you for contributing some sanity to the issue.

    Also, I’d like to point out that mid-level water quality experts work for the state. The Democratic governance of the city isn’t solely responsible.

      Anonamom in reply to JBourque. | January 18, 2016 at 11:28 am

      Thank you both for your rational responses. Bureaucracy itself is inefficient at handling complex problems. It matters not whether the state’s governor is an R or a D.

    ScottTheEngineer in reply to MathMom. | January 18, 2016 at 12:52 pm

    They probably aren’t treating for dihydrogen monoxide either. That stuffs deadly.

      A little insider knowledge of chemistry and plumbing should have told them this was a bad idea, but clearly it was pursued to save money first, and squeeze by the technicalities of their public obligations second. What’s the point of having water experts if you’re not interested in them warning you of really bad ideas? If this was a private corporation there’d be hell to pay.

ScottTheEngineer | January 18, 2016 at 11:19 am

I wonder what the Lead levels were before the switch? If the lead levels were a result of lack of treatment then all sample points should be the same would they not? I think maybe a few places have piping problems where the lead seals in the underground pipes are aging. Switching water back to the high dollar Detroit water isn’t going to help that, though it will help the fine citizen of Detroit pay their water bills. Better to save the money and replace the pipes than spend a ton of money on Detroit water and replace the pipes anyway. As to the woman who’s son has lead poisoning, did that come from the water or the walls of the 200 year old house she lives in that’s never had the walls repainted? There are a lot of unknowns that will have to be accounted for. Sounds like someone is trying to push a large public opinion drive to settle a lawsuit OOC or replace a Repub.

    The pipes SHOULD have been replaced years ago. Could have been done over a 10 or 15 year period.

      Humphrey's Executor in reply to genes. | January 19, 2016 at 8:01 am

      I was taught as a kid 40 years ago that lead pipe plumbing contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire. You’d think we’d learn something in 1500 years or so.

        Sammy Finkelman in reply to Humphrey's Executor. | January 19, 2016 at 2:44 pm

        Greg Branch says lead in pipes isn’t so bad if the Ph of the water is correct. In that case, the lead gets coated with lead oxide and no lead dissolves into the water.

        That’s the way it was all these years when Flint was getting its water from Detroit.

        Flint maybe also would have been all right maybe with its new water supply. But Detroit gave its legally required one year notice in April 2013, and the new water supply wouldn’t be ready until at least 2016.

        The temporary substitute water supply from the Flint River, (which option it chose, following a recommendation from a hired a consulting firm, after negotiations with Detroit broke down) required orthophosphates in order for the lead oxide not to be dissolved from the pipes, but instead the city of Flint used lime. (was that only good for preventing iron from dissolving?)

        Detroit added orthophosphates to its water, which also contained less chloride than the Flint River.

    Midwest Rhino in reply to ScottTheEngineer. | January 18, 2016 at 1:08 pm

    Those are no doubt issues to consider, but it was said in the above comment that it was the high level of (safe) chloride that changes the chemistry, and causes more lead to be leached out of pipes or solder joints.

    Temperature and other factors have to be considered as well, but an old house with some lead exposure was made much worse with the higher chloride levels. It doesn’t seem that considering chloride levels should have been “higher math”, but rather an ordinary consideration before they started using the river water. It is pretty much “settled science”.

Isn’t it interesting that Michael Moore has to bypass the local Democratic Party pols, and his do-no-wrong Federal Government EPA, and regional water officials until he could find a Republican governor to accuse of murdering little Flint children?

Oh look. People who are too incompetent to get real jobs infect the gov positions. Expect more of this type of stuff when all those cans being kicked have no road left.

Sammy Finkelman | January 19, 2016 at 12:53 pm

Here is something interesting.

It all got started when Detroit abruptly cancelled its water contract with Flint, giving Flint one year’s notice, when Flint announced it would join a new source of water in three years.

The city of Detroit was trying to kill the new, cmpeting water authority.

Some context as the liberals attempt to lay this at the feet of Governor Snyder while exonerating local Democrats and Obama’s EPA (never let a good crisis go to waste):

“As concerns about Flint’s water quality were mounting earlier this year,the city disregarded federal rules requiring it to seek out homes with lead plumbing for testing, potentially leading the city and state to
underestimate for months the extent of toxic lead leaching into Flint’s tap water.”

“City water officials filed certified documents with state regulators that claimed the city only tested tap water from homes where residents were at the highest risk of lead poisoning, but records obtained by The Flint Journal-MLive show those claims were false and may have delayed efforts
to fix the public health emergency here.”

“Professor Marc Edwards, a water researcher from Virginia Tech University, said there’s a reason water systems are required to search out homes with the greatest potential for lead poisoning.

“The rule is set up to test the worst-case scenario homes since you’re only testing (a small number of) homes,” Edwards said. “What happens if you don’t is people (are) told their water is safe when their kids are being lead poisoned.”

“More than 20 years ago, as stricter federal guidelines were put in place, water systems were required to develop inventories of the materials in distribution systems so that they could identify samples sites for lead and copper testing.

Flint never did, according to Glasgow, leaving it with a hodgepodge of scattered records, tens of thousands of which were individual, hand-written index cards. Sometimes the paper slips and map data had water service line information, but often it did not, records show.”

Who has mismanaged Flint’s compliance with federal health requirements an Flint’s finances for the last 20 tears? Huh?

I live just outside of Chicago and I have two Chicago style bungalows which I have joined into one house. Despite being a lawyer, I have taught myself plumbing and other trades too. Here’s where the lead comes from: out in your street you have a main water pipe, old time, it’s usually cast iron. Connected to that is a lead pipe that runs underground, below the frost line, in my area about four feet. It runs under the city sidewalk and your front lawn, along your foundation and enters the house about half its length. Most houses in my area and older houses around the country have this set up. It would cost at least $4000 to @7000 to dig up that pipe and replace it with a non-lead pipe. In the old days, before they knew lead was dangerous they used it everywhere. Probably because it was flexible, you could bend it, unlike iron pipe and it did not rust. It was also easier to connect to cast iron main pipes. The great cost to individual home owners caused municipalities like mine to look for other solutions. They came up with a solution using chemicals that would dissolve in drinking water, be safe for consumption and would slowly coat the lead pipes so that the lead wou8ld no longer leach out into the house’s water. They did this in my town and the water has tested very safe. Apparently what happened in Flint is they had water from Detroit containing those protective lead covering chemicals and somebody decided it was too expensive, so they went for river water that contained no protective chemicals and had stuff that stripped off the protective coating created with Detroit water. It should be possible to add protective chemicals to Flint’s water, neutralize the problem chemicals in the river water and have safe water in a couple of months. But you probably shouldn’t drink it in the meantime. Each house will have to have a flow to recoat the pipes. This can be done by using the water for showers, laundry, toilets, dishes, lawn and garden. It is also possible to identify the culprit here, excoriate him and ban him from any kind of government work forever.

    Sammy Finkelman in reply to faboutlaws. | January 21, 2016 at 11:15 am

    The replacement water has already been running for some time now. This problem was not discovered just this week or last, but back in October already.

    When the water was unsafe to drink, they told people to drink it, and now that the water is increasingly safe they tell people not to. They won’t say the problem is largely over.

Sammy Finkelman | January 21, 2016 at 11:20 am

I saw Governor Snyder on CBS (on the radio broadcast of the CBS Evening News) and again (partially repeated) on This Morning

Governor Snyder refused to say what the levels of the water are now, but I got the definite sense that most of the tests are showing that the water is safe to drink. He didn’t want to say some Zip codes (or streets?) are better than others.

Q.: So fair to say you don’t know what the lead content is in the water?A.: Well, again — we don’t want people to believe it’s safe. Extensive testing is going on, has been going on for some time. And we are seeing improvements in the water supply. But we don’t want people to believe it’s appropriate to drink at this point in time, and that’s why I’m proud to have the National Guard out there working hard.

Q.: I don’t understand why you can’t give us the latest testing data and what it shows for the water in Flint. What is the number?
A.: I don’t have the number at the top of my head of the very latest data. And it varies by parts of the city.Q.: I would think that the governor of Michigan would have those numbers at the top of his mind right now.A.: Until they’re in a range that is considered safe, I don’t actually want to get into the issue of, by ZIP code or by street, what the particular sayings are. This is the point of bringing in third-party experts to make sure we have the best information — that they affirm that it’s a level that would be considered safe.

He’s hiding the fact that most of the water is safe to drink, not the opposite.

And a lot was always safe, even if it wasn’t too palatable because of other things.

Only 4% of the population of FLint has lead.

Now some people seem to be talking about absolute numbers of children who tested positive for lead – 50 or maybe 100. That, of course is not the way to do it. But the problem is different in every street because it’s the local pipes that count.

    Sammy Finkelman in reply to Sammy Finkelman. | January 21, 2016 at 11:42 am

    I mean only 4% of the children of Flint have very high levels of lead in their bodies.

    The problem is [or was[ spotty, as would be the case with a problem caused by the condition of pipes near the houses (when combined with the change in the composition of the water)

    Somehow the idea that water could cause lead to leech out into the water, was even an idea in many peopel’s heads.

    Meanwhile Snyder is just taking orders (from the feds perhaps) People who want to create as much trouble as possible, and spend as much money as possible, and protect the Detroit Water Supply District, which brought about his situation by playing hardball.

      Sammy Finkelman in reply to Sammy Finkelman. | January 21, 2016 at 11:46 am

      * Somehow the idea that water could cause lead to leech out into the water, was NOT even an idea in many people’s heads.

      There’s a lot of mysteries, here. But nationwide, verybody’s all behind in this story.

Sammy Finkelman | January 21, 2016 at 11:27 am

It’s not getting through what the real problem is. Little hints of it do, but you have to already understanbd it to pick up on it.

They may quote something about the KWA, for instance, and not explain what it is.

The KWA is the newly established (2010) Karegnondi water authority. Flint decided to switch its water from Detroit, which was overcharging, and rauising orices alll the time, to this new system. But it wouldn’t be ready for three years.

Now the contract with Detroit, written decades ago, when construction projects went faster, said either party could cancel the contract with one years notice. When Flint’s City Council voted to go ahead woth the switch, Detroit involked that clause.

That would give Flint two years with no source of water.

There were some negotiations with Detroit, but so far it is not known to the publkic what Detroit was demanding. I also don’t know who was in charge in Detroit and who was in chare in Flint.

Flint decided to use the river water for two years. They could have done this but 1) the water contained more chlroides than Detroit’s) and 2) they didn’t use orthophosphates, but used lime instead. It would not have cost very much money to properly treat the water.

Sammy Finkelman | January 21, 2016 at 11:29 am

What they need to do now is give everybody the opportuniy to test their water, but, by and large, the water is now, or soon will be, as safe to drink as it was before.

Maybe it was bad in places before, too. Any place that had bad piping, or if a pipe broke a little and exposed some new lead, would have a problem. But the problem would probably go away after a while.

They don’t actually need to replace all the pipes.

Government was wrong before, and it’s wrong now.

Sammy Finkelman | January 21, 2016 at 11:34 am

This whole thing could be a case study in what wrong with socialism.

But people want to turn it into a case study of what’s wrong with fiscal conservatism, or with Republicans, or with white people, or all three.

You do need some checks and balances and they’re harder to institute when everything is run by goverments. If there was a private water company, they’d probably be afraid of the lawyers and the politicians, and also the company going bankrupt, and them losing their jobs, and even going to jail, and this whole thing would have a much harder time happening until someboody evil really tried to make it happen.