Michigan ends free bottled water for Flint residents

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Residents of Flint will no longer be able to receive free bottled water according to a new release by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

The release states that the city of Flint's water quality "has been restored" and that it tests below federal action levels in lead and copper for nearly 20 years. 

The remaining four distributions centers will close and Access and Functional Needs deliveries will end once the current supply of state-funded bottled water runs out.

Water filters and replacement cartridges will continue to be available at City Hall and by calling CORE (810-238-6700) for residents who have service line replacements underway at their homes or would feel more comfortable using a filter until their confidence in the water quality can be reestablished.

Flint's water was tainted with the toxin for at least 18 months, as the city tapped the Flint River but didn't treat the water to reduce corrosion. As a result, lead leached from old pipes and fixtures.

Outspoken Flint resident and clean water advocate Melissa Mays took to Twitter to show her disappointment with the state declaring the water crisis over.

"Maybe Gov. Rick Snyder has a totally different definition of 'safe,'" Mays wrote on Twitter under her handle @flintgate. "As ErinBrockovich stated, mixed statements like Snyder's are telling us "It is ok, it will only kill you a little. The #FlintWaterCrisis speeds on.

"There is no way we use 14 units/month just taking 7 minute showers, flushing the toilet and doing dishes. We don't do laundry at home because the water tears up our clothes & we don't drink it, brush teeth, cook with it or give it to our pets but our water bill this month = $352.00."

Multiple charges have been leveled by a special investigative unit  at former and current state officials including six charged with involuntary manslaughter. 

Among the six, Nick Lyon, the director of Health and Human Services was charged with involuntary manslaughter tied to an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in the Flint area in 2014-15. The attorney general's office says key officials knew about a spike in Legionnaires', but failed to tell the public until January 2016.Human Services and Department.

Some experts have blamed the outbreak on Flint's use of the Flint River for the city's water supply. Legionnaires' is a type of pneumonia caused by bacteria that thrive in warm water and infect the lungs. The bacteria are commonly spread by mist and cooling systems. 

Nearly 100 Legionnaires' cases, including 12 deaths, were reported in Genesee County.

In a DEQ release, the state says that tests representing four consecutive six-month monitoring periods shows that 90 percent of the Tier I (high-risk) samples collected are at or below 4 parts per billion, which is well below the federal action level of 15 ppb. Nearly two years of LCR data and thousands of other tests show that Flint’s water is testing the same as or better than similar cities across the state. 

MORE: Michigan gives Ice Mountain green light to take more water

“I have said all along that ensuring the quality of the water in Flint and helping the people and the city move forward were a top priority for me and my team," said Gov. Rick Snyder in a release. "We have worked diligently to restore the water quality and the scientific data now proves the water system is stable and the need for bottled water has ended."

"For the past two years I have repeatedly been asked when I would declare the water safe in Flint and I have always said that no arbitrary decision would be made - that we would let the science take us to that conclusion. 

“Since Flint’s water is now well within the standards set by the federal government, we will now focus even more of our efforts on continuing with the health, education and economic development assistance needed to help move Flint forward. I remain steadfast in that commitment.”

According to a release by the DEQ, State taxpayers have provided more than $350 million to Flint, in addition to the $100 million from the federal government. The funding is helping with water quality improvements, pipe replacement, healthcare, nutritional food distribution, educational resources, job training and creation.

FOX 2 reported that an expert who warned about dangerous lead levels declared an end to the crisis in Sept. 2017. Virginia Tech Researcher Marc Edwards said at the time that after several rounds of testing, lead levels are back to normal -- for a city with old lead pipes. He recommended the continued use of filters and warns of a "crisis of confidence" among residents who blame government for the water problems.

A release by the state of Michigan said:

“Bottled water may be ending but the state’s commitment to the residents of Flint remains strong,” said Rich Baird, senior advisor to Gov. Snyder and team leader for the state’s Mission Flint Office. “I want to acknowledge all of the people who contributed to Flint’s water recovery efforts. We are grateful to the researchers who discovered the problem and to the thousands of people who have provided water and support, and helped monitor the water quality. Nearly two years of scientific data shows that Flint’s water system is stable and confirms the suitability of water in Flint for drinking.”

The 90th percentile lead value of samples collected from Tier 1 sites for the 6-month compliance period between July 1, 2017 and Dec. 31, 2017 was 6 ppb with 94 percent of the samples at or below the15 ppb federal action level for lead.  Federal regulations require that at least 90 percent of tests come in at or below 15 ppb. A Tier I site is considered at higher risk per federal guidelines. This includes homes that have a lead service line or meet other criteria that make it an eligible location to determine compliance with the federal LCR. 

“Flint’s water is undoubtedly one of the most monitored systems in the country, and for the last 22 months several types of extensive testing data points have consistently supported that Flint’s water system has stabilized,” said Keith Creagh, director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and former interim director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality who remains the principal on Flint water.  "Even with the quality water results to date, we will continue to support Mayor Karen Weaver’s service line replacement program as it is an important component to the long-term integrity of the Flint water system.”

After the second consecutive 6-month monitoring period that ended in June 2017 with Flint’s water quality meeting federal standards, free bottled water distribution at the points of distribution (PODs) and Access and Functional Needs (AFN) water delivery were no longer required by the Concerned Pastors for Social Action settlement agreement that was entered in federal court in April of 2017.

To allow residents additional time to prepare for the final transition to filtered water, in September 2017, Gov. Rick Snyder, Mayor Karen Weaver, Concerned Pastors for Social Action, and other community leaders came together and formulated a plan to continue the operation of four of nine PODs and AFN delivery.

State teams have conducted extensive flushing and testing of unfiltered water at schools, day cares and elder care facilities, though there are no government regulations requiring the testing.  The state of Michigan has gone above and beyond current federal regulations and meets proposed state regulations.

Of the 2,540 unfiltered water samples tested at Flint Community Schools, 96 percent or 2,439 of the samples were at or below the 15 parts per billion (ppb) federal lead action level, 94.6 percent or 2,402 of the samples were at or below 10 ppb, 90.3 percent or 2,294 of the samples were at or below the 5 ppb bottled water standard and lead was not detected in 54.7 percent or 1,389 of the samples. 

Additionally, last November and December, state teams conducted flushing and testing at approximately 90 charter and parochial schools, day care and elder care facilities.  Of the 831 samples tested, 98.6 percent or 819 of the samples were at or below the 15 ppb federal action level for lead, 97.6 percent or 811 of the samples were at or below 10 ppb, 95.1 percent or 790 of the samples met the bottled water standard of 5 ppb and lead was not detected in 80.9 percent or 672 of the samples.  Water samples collected were unfiltered at all locations where it was possible to bypass the filter.   

State officials have previously conducted extensive flushing and multiple rounds of testing, replaced fixtures and installed over 1,400 filters in schools, day care and elder care facilities.  MDEQ is working closely with any facilities that exceed the federal action level of 15 ppb.

Tests that were above acceptable levels were at individual points of use within schools and do not reflect overall water quality within any school building.

CLEAR Testing Results Status

Testing has also shown that service line replacement is an important component to the future long-term integrity of the Flint water system.  The last round of CLEAR (Confirming Lead Elimination After Replacement) testing data shows that 100 percent of the samples collected were below the 15 ppb federal action level after service line replacement was completed.  Service lines have been replaced at over 6,200 residences to date.

CORE and Residential Water Testing Status

CORE (Community Outreach and Resident Education) team members have made multiple visits to homes where a water test hasn’t been submitted to encourage residents to have their water tested for free.  Teams made over 8,500 contacts and provided nearly 6,000 water testing kits, with some residents passing on the opportunity to get their water tested. 

In addition to the residential water testing effort, CORE members have completed more than 483,800 visits at Flint homes and had over 153,000 conversations with residents to make sure they are properly installing and maintaining their filters and aware of available resources. 

While data supports that the use of water filters becomes a matter of personal choice after service line replacement, out of an abundance of caution, residents are reminded to use filters for six months after service lines are replaced to ensure protection against possible particulate releases due to physical disruptions caused during the service line replacement. 

Residents can call 810-238-6700 with questions about filter usage or to schedule a home visit by a CORE member. The CORE program was established to ensure Flint residents are properly installing, using and maintaining their water filters and are aware of available resources. CORE teams are comprised of hired Flint residents going door-to-door to assist fellow residents.

Residents are reminded to ensure verification of official CORE credentials before allowing an individual into their home.  Credentials include an official blue Flint Water Response Team badge with a security hologram, a GST MichiganWorks! badge with photo identification and a bright yellow vest.  Team members will be ready to and are required to display their two pieces of identification at all times, and especially upon approach of a home. 

Testing results can be found by visiting www.michigan.gov/flintwater.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.