April 7 (UPI) — Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has ended the free bottled water program in Flint after testing has showed the levels of lead in the city’s water are below the federal limit four years after the crisis.
The remaining four distributions centers will close and deliveries will end once the current supply of state-funded bottled water is exhausted, the governor said in a press release Friday.
“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,” Gov. Rick Snyder said. “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.
The free bottled water was part of a $450 million aid package — $350 million from the state and $100 from the federal government. The program includes helping with water quality improvements, pipe replacement, healthcare, nutritional food distribution, educational resources, job training and creation.
“Bottled water may be ending but the state’s commitment to the residents of Flint remains strong,” said Rich Baird, senior adviser to Gov. Snyder and team leader for the state’s Mission Flint Office.
Snyder said, “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.”
From July 1 to Dec. 31, 2017, the 90th percentile lead value of samples collected from Tier 1 sites for the six-month compliance 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.
“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.”
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician started noticed rising levels of blood lead levels in Flint’s children four years ago, was disappointed with Friday’s decision.
“This is wrong. Until all lead pipes are replaced, state should make available bottled water and filters to Flint residents,” she posted on Twitter.
Residents, who lined up at the distribution centers on Friday for bottled water, also were angry.
“They did us in. I mean, it’s bull****. People are sick. People have died. But there’s nothing we can do,” Debra Coleman, Flint resident, said to WNEM-TV.
And Dr. Pamela Pugh, the chief public health advisor for Flint, said questions remain.
“We have not received clear steps as to how the remaining lead in Flint school’s will be remediated or how ongoing monitoring will continue for our most vulnerable population,” she said. “Additionally, the medical community has continuously raised questioned as to how special populations, including nursing and bottle-feeding mothers, will receive bottled water while massive pipe replacement is ongoing.”
In 2014, officials switched the city’s water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River, which is 19 times more corrosive, according to researchers from Virginia Tech.
Lead leached from pipes into the city’s drinking water, causing the water to look, taste and smell odd. Also, people experienced rashes and hair loss. And a study released last September found the lead-contaminated water caused lower fertility rates and higher infant death rates.
In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency alleged that the Department of Environmental Quality wasn’t treating the Flint River with an anti-corrosive agent.
Local and state officials, including former emergency managers and water plant employees have been charged with felonies.
That includes the state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Eden Wells, who faces two new felony charges — including involuntary manslaughter — that were filed last October.