David Eggert ?and Mike Householder
FLINT, Mich.: Flint residents coping with lead contamination will be cleared to drink unfiltered water again only when outside experts determine it is safe, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said Wednesday, acknowledging their mistrust of government officials while saying a full replacement of the city’s pipes is not imminent.
A lawsuit filed earlier in the day by environmental and civil rights groups asked a federal judge to order the prompt replacement of all lead pipes in Flint’s water system at no cost to customers. Snyder did not rule out the eventual replacement of the lead service lines leading from water mains, but said it is a longer-term consideration.
In the meantime, Flint hired a Virginia Tech professor who helped expose the lead problem despite initial skepticism from state regulators to now oversee water testing. Professor Marc Edwards also was appointed by Snyder to a committee that will set in place long-term solutions.
“There absolutely is a trust issue,” Snyder said during a news conference with state and local officials who announced more plans to address the city’s crisis. The Legislature is expected to direct $28 million in additional funding toward Flint on Thursday.
Mayor Karen Weaver said residents should not have to pay for the water “they did not and are not using.” Emergency budget legislation approved Wednesday by a Senate committee includes $3 million to help Flint with unpaid water bills.
“I was glad that the governor said these are just first steps because I’m asking for a staircase,” she said.
Flint residents are currently unable to drink unfiltered tap water, and tests have shown high lead levels in some children’s blood. While under state financial management, the city switched its water source to the Flint River but without controlling corrosion. That caused lead to leech into the water for a year and a half and contributed to the spike in child lead exposure before state and officials fully acknowledged the problem in early October.
It remains unclear how badly the lead service lines were damaged by the river water. While Snyder’s administration has estimated it could cost up to $55 million to repair some 15,000 pipes, he cautioned that more study is needed.
“A lot of work is being done to even understand where the lead services lines fully are,” Snyder said. “The short-term issue is about recoating the pipes [with chemicals] and that will be based on third-party experts saying the water is safe. ... It’s a lot of work to take out pipes, to redo all the infrastructure.”