The focus in Flint, MI has been getting residents clean water, identifying the lead service lines and securing the funding to replace them. Behind the scenes the battle is over liability and assigning blame. It should start and end with the E.P.A. from a legal standpoint. It is the agencies Lead and Copper Rule that has created the confusion and allowed the debacle to occur. Why? Because the E.P.A. continues to write and enforce legislation that factors in ‘feasability’ in its equation. This is why the allowable limit for lead is 15 parts per billion rather than zero. After all, everyone now knows that no amount of lead is safe. Yet enforcing that number would be very expensive and require the nation to remove all lead pipes and other sources of lead in our drinking water. Not even the socialist Bernie Sanders is promoting the massive undertaking it would be to fix the nations water infrastructure. How and who should pay for that is a debate for another day.
The E.P.A. took the extra step to release a memo on Nov. 3, 2015 to specifically address the confusion in Flint.
After reviewing the rule with our Office of General Counsel, it appears that there are differing possible interpretations of the LCR with respect to how the rule’s optimal corrosion control procedure’s apply to this situation, which may have led to some uncertainty with respect to the Flint water system.
In other words, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality may not be to blame for misinterpreting the rule as the E.P.A. admits here. The problem developed when Flint switched water sources from Detroit to the Flint River. The LCR dictates that large water systems must develop what is called ‘optimized corrosion control’. Basically, this means they must treat the water so it isn’t corrosive to the pipes which may release metals and other toxins poisonous to humans. The Michigan DEQ allowed Flint to conduct two consecutive six month monitoring periods before deciding upon a corrosion control plan as is allowed under the rule. Enter the confusion. The E.P.A. rule says that if the area being served has over 50,000 users than corrosion control must be maintained even during the monitoring periods. Apparently the logic is that any mistake made will affect a large number of people and can’t be risked. So if your city has only 49,000 residents sorry about your luck?
Yet the very same rule dictates this.
It is important for large systems and primary agencies to take the steps necessary to ensure that appropriate corrosion control treatment is maintained at all times, thus ensuring that public health is protected.
Please bear in mind that these quotes are all from the same so-called clarification memo. Yet it doesn’t clarify anything other than to say that their rule is confusing and they acknowledge that it may be misinterpreted.
You see, the debate in Flint prior to the switch was whether or not to simply continue on with the same corrosion control program that Detroit had been using during the year long monitoring period. The quote above states that it must be maintained “at all times”. Seems pretty clear. Until you read on.
Primary agencies should work with systems that plan to disconnect from a supplier that had installed corrosion control treatment to determine the OCCT for the new source and establish WQPS for that treatment instead of using the OOCT and WQPs established for the previous source.
Clear as mud? In other words the DEQ should work with Flint to determine the appropriate corrosion control program and not simply use what Detroit had been using. Yet the rule also says corrosion control must be maintained “at all times”. It also says that Flint must conduct the monitoring periods to accumulate data to be able to determine just what an optimized corrosion control program should be.
So Flint shouldn’t use what Detroit was using just because and it shouldn’t not use anything because the rule says so and it also should wait until it completes its monitoring period to ensure it implements the correct corrosion control program. All at the same time. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
This was all from a memo designed to clear up confusion. If anyone ever needs a clear example of why bloated bureaucracy doesn’t work, I give you the E.P.A.. They write a confusing rule and a follow-up memo to clarify that only makes it worse.
As I’ve stated previously, the fault still goes to the city of Flint. It is the water utility that is responsible for proposing methods and changes to treat the water supply. The DEQ is tasked with ruling on those proposals. Flint and their expert consultants and engineering firms are all well aware of what was to happen with no corrosion control program in place. Doesn’t matter if they had legal ‘cover’ from the DEQ or the EPA. They had ample time to study what effect using the river would have on the distribution system. Detroit had notified them a year in advance they would be dropped and the city knew even before that as the emergency manager had told Detroit they wouldn’t renew their contract.
Flint also waited until February of 2014 to begin the hiring process to staff the water plant for full-time operations. By the time those new hires were vetted and actually started working, it was only a couple of weeks before the water source was to take place. Not nearly enough time to properly train new hires on water plant operations. In fact, the lab manager agreed and voiced his protest here.
It isn’t ‘sexy’ to blame Flint for its woes. Flint is all about the victim mentality. They are victims of republican austerity. They are victims of GM relocating. Victims that need federal bailout dollars to spread their pain across the country so everyone can share in it. Taking responsibility for their plight won’t result in somebody else paying for it. The E.P.A. is to blame for creating the scenario that allowed the Flint water crisis to occur, but Flint should shoulder a moral and ethical share of the blame for not doing what’s right regardless of the letter of the law.