The E.P.A. memo to clear up the Flint water crisis is even more confusing

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.

Surreal stories surround the Flint water crisis

Wow! I mean wow! Every time you think the Flint water crisis can’t get any worse…

Boil water advisory adds to confusion over how to make Flint tap water safe to drink

Now the boil water advisory is nothing new. That’s just due to a water main break. Happens all the time. However, as I read the story, a couple things caught my eye. First was this.

Michael Hood started going door-to-door in Flint last month. The wilderness guide from the Ann Arbor area was part of a newly formed group called Crossing Water, and they wanted to see what they could do to help people in Flint.

“Most folks have heard that the water is not safe to drink, but not everybody,” Hood said.

It might seem crazy, Hood says, with the Internet and 24-hour cable news, that some people in Flint still don’t know about potentially dangerous levels of lead in their drinking water. But, Hood points out, there are a lot of people who can’t afford Internet or cable, who don’t speak English, who cannot read.

OK. Seems reasonable. What’s the solution when you have people that don’t have media access, don’t speak english and don’t read?

Hood was dumbfounded that no official agency seemed to be addressing this common misconception. So his group jumped into action, working with some billboard companies, TV and radio stations, to get the message out: Boiling your water will not remove lead.

Post billboards they can’t read, run TV ads they can’t see and air radio ads they can’t understand. Way to go guys. Great plan.

Then the story tried to personalize the issue and interviewed a local painter, James Todd. The DEQ had stopped by his house and left info about lead poisoning. Todd was a bit skeptical.

“I read something about vacuuming your floors. That vacuuming your floors will actually cause lead dust now. Well, where’s that coming from on my floors? How’d it get on my floors?”

Todd flips through some paperwork on his kitchen table that the state officials left.

“Maybe it was in here I read it,” he says, pausing to read from a pamphlet about lead exposure.

“Oh yeah, here it is, it says ‘use doormats, take your shoes off when indoors. Vacuuming carpets may pull more lead dust to the surface, so use a non-motorized sweeper to clean carpets,” Todd reads from the pamphlet.

“I don’t have non-motorized carpet cleaner. Maybe they’ll have them at the fire department pretty soon too, you know?” Todd says, laughing a little, before continuing, “clean window sills and wipe play areas down with paper towels and soapy water.

“This is the paperwork from the guy who just left my house, just before you got here.”

Todd owns his own painting business. He served in the Navy. He watches the news. He got the results from his first lead test after spotting a map of the city’s latest test results on social media and searching for it. He’s even had multiple visits from various officials and volunteers. He’s no dummy. And still, he’s confused about how to protect his family from lead in Flint.

What? This guy owns his own painting business and has never heard of the hazards of lead paint? The hazards of lead dust and the methods of transmission throughout a home? And he’s no dummy? He’s making the assumption that the lead in his water is somehow making it to his floor and window sills? Scary!

Lead is known to impair cognitive thinking. It would appear it’s had an effect.

Blame for Flint is everywhere but not in one very obvious place

Former senator calls Flint water crisis ‘monstrous dereliction of duty’

Did you think the story of MDEQ malfeasance could not get worse? Wrong again. MDEQ’s negligence quite possibly killed a few of the very people they were paid to protect

PR expert: “No turning point in sight” in Gov. Snyder’s handling of Flint water crisis

What did Snyder know and when did he know it?

Those are only a few of the seemingly endless articles concerning the Flint water crisis. They all tend to assign the blame on the Governor, the emergency managers, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality or the EPA. I wonder why one other player, the elephant in the room, doesn’t seem to receive their share of the blame?

I’m talking about the city of Flint. After all, it was their half-century of financial mismanagement that led to the reason the emergency managers were brought in. Agree or disagree that the em’s were an appropriate response, Flint can’t blame any of the other players for the position they got themselves into.

And this fact seems to be overlooked by everyone. Yes, it was the DEQ that failed to enforce the Lead and Copper Rule correctly allowing the city to delay implementing a corrosion control program. However, nothing was standing in the way of the city still doing the right thing. It is in fact the utility, the city of Flint in this case, that has the responsibility to formulate a corrosion control program. Then that program is submitted to the DEQ for final approval. They may consult with the DEQ during the process, which Flint did, or simply go on their own and seek DEQ approval.

Unfortunately, the city went with the minimalist approach and sought to do the least amount possible as required by law. They could very well have submitted an optimal corrosion control program to the DEQ regardless of what the minimum threshold was. It’s the same sort of logic that the deeply flawed Lead and Copper Rule allows. The allowable limit for lead is 15 parts per billion and that is what encourages utilities to bend the rules (or sometimes outright commit fraud) in an attempt to stay just under it so they don’t have to go public and take action. They could take it upon themselves to reduce it to zero but the law doesn’t require it.

Flint may not have had the authority to make final decisions, however they could have introduced the right ones. They also shoulder the blame for electing to switch their primary coagulant to ferric chloride, which caused to corrosion problems, and not fuly vet its effects in real world conditions using river water as a source. This could have been done well ahead of time utilizing standard industry practices of bench testing, pipe loops, jar tests, etc. There is no reason other than negligence to not complete sampling under the distribution system conditions they knew they would face. Flint also benefited from the fact that they operated the plant approx. 20 days each year using river water as a source while in a backup capacity to Detroit water. A perfect opportunity to assess what effect no corrosion control would have upon the lead service lines. Some simple valving could have targeted a specific test area to use treated river water in place of Detroit water and measure its effects.

The left will have none of it. They see blood in the water and want to seize upon the opportunity to take back some turf from the republicans. They also don’t want the finger of blame pointed toward any bureaucracy as that doesn’t fit the agenda of expanding it. The window of opportunity is short. Once the lead levels decline to below the action level, the ability to have federal taxpayers pay for Flint’s infrastructure replacement withers. At that point they become just another city with old pipes. Despite the inept DEQ, the flawed EPA, and even a compromised Governor with a different partisan agenda if you want to go there, Flint had the power to do this the right way and failed. It’s time they look in the blame game mirror.

 

 

What isn’t being talked about in the Flint water crisis

The Flint water crisis marches on with the list of investigations growing and growing. The FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, EPA’s Office of Inspector General, EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division, the Michigan Attorney General, and a state of Michigan Governor appointed task force are all conducting official investigations. Not to mention a handful of environmental and government transparency activists. An ever increasing number of lawsuits have been filed, some class action, some targeted at government officials. Famed Michigan attorney Geoffrey Fieger has joined the fray by filing a $100 million dollar suit against the state and McLaren Hospital alleging they were aware of the tainted water from which a high percentage of those contacting Legionnaires’ Disease were patients. The only certainty is that we haven’t seen the end of the investigations or lawsuits.

Despite the intense media glare on Flint, it seems that several key issues are still being missed. As an example, this editor has personally contacted several media outlets, spoken to reporters and activists, and have yet to see these key points pursued. So we march on.

  • the CSMR, a formula used to predict what effect a change in water treatment will have before implementing it, was completely ignored by the city of Flint, their engineering firm and the state of Michigan DEQ prior to changing their water source from Detroit water to Flint River water. They would have known before a single person was poisoned that the lead leaching issue would occur. No test period required. No hiding behind the EPA mandated back to back six month monitoring periods. Negligence pure and simple. Criminal? For the courts to decide.
  • the EPA continues to avoid the blame. It is the EPA and their Lead and Copper Rule that must be looked at as the root cause. Their sampling protocols are intentionally set up to fail. Utilities around the country are using a multitude of tweaks to insure they don’t exceed the 15 parts per billion action level for lead and 1,300 parts per billion action level for copper. To do so means just what it says, they must take action and action costs money. A plan to combat corrosion in water pipes can take up to FIVE years to implement. Legally. While the people are the lab rats being used to collect data. It certainly should be criminal. The so-called Safe Drinking Water Act is devised to balance the nations water supply safety with financial burdens upon utility companies and their associated cities and townships that operate them. The avalanche of stories hitting the news circuit now highlighting poisoning from water supplies across the country is not at all new, it’s only now newsworthy thanks to Flint. The costs to truly make the water supply safe will be massive and the EPA is directed by government leaders to mitigate that financial burden through legislation. At what price? You and your loved ones health, that’s all.
  • the fallout from the actions taken in Flint. The artificially large dose of corrosion control now in place to attempt to make up ground for the 17 months the city operated without any will have a consequence. The phosphates discharged through the normal drainage of the Flint River basin will eventually make their way into lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay. Saginaw Bay already exceeds their phosphate discharge levels annually which leads to toxic algae growth. Algal blooms are sure to follow impacting thousands of residents, fishermen and recreational users.
  • more fallout from actions taken to protect the people of Flint. Over 30,000 water filters passed out. Over 100,000 replacement filter cartridges issued. Those filter cartridges will end up in landfills. So will all the other lead related devices, traps, samples, etc. So will all the lead pipes that get replaced. Should Flint get federal money to go all in and replace every lead pipe in their distribution system as well as the homeowners that need to replace their in-home lead plumbing sources, well see a huge concentration of all of these lead items in local landfills at virtually the same time. When nature gets it way as it always does, that lead will eventually leach out of those landfills. Doesn’t matter if they have protective liners. Water always wins. It may take decades or even hundreds of years but somewhere along the way it is entirely possible a future generation will face a spike in groundwater lead. Having so much lead introduced into landfills at essentially the same time and the same depth means a large dose of toxic metal poised to leak out. An example of today’s problems being pushed down the road to be someone else’s problem.
  • the fact that the city of Flint Water Treatment Plant currently has operators employed that have failed to meet minimum certification standards. The DEQ oversees the operator training and certification program for water treatment plant operators. Within 18 months of employment, an operator must obtain a minimum certification license known as an F-4. Flint has operators employed since March of 2014 that have not yet become licensed operators. This information is public knowledge and available on the state DEQ website. Yet no one anywhere even discusses it. Given the magnitude of the Flint water crisis, one would think having certified operators would be of primary importance.
  • now that a corrosion control program is finally in place in Flint people naturally want to know how long before the water is safe to drink again. Particularly since the EPA approved water filters are only good for up to 150pbb of lead. No one even wants to venture a guess publicly. A 2003 study showed that it takes approximately one year to reduce lead levels back below the allowable limit (15pbb) once the protective lining inside the pipes has been compromised as you can read for yourself on page 15 of this study.

Those are a few critical issues not in the news cycle. Hopefully that will change soon as the citizens of not just Flint but the entire country deserve to know the whole truth.