Is the Lead in Flint Really in the Drinking Water?

I'm following up on the Flint water issue because the more I thought about it, I'm becoming much more convinced my original suspicion is true – the elevated lead levels in the kids there are not really related to the drinking water. As I mentioned in my last blog post about this, the leading cause of lead poisoning in children is lead paint, not drinking water. So if the pediatrician who analyzed the lead testing didn't take into account the living environments of those children, how does Flint know the lead in those kids is really from the drinking water and not lead paint? The government could end up spending hundreds of millions of dollars on replacing pipes and addressing lead in the drinking water, but the actual cause of the lead poisoning would not have been removed.

Perhaps someone closer to this problem has already looked into this because I cannot imagine this entire issue has been allowed to get to this point without someone bringing up this question. But I cannot find anywhere a discussion of how everyone came to the conclusion that the lead problem in Flint is due to the drinking water rather than lead paint which is a much more likely cause.  Even a recent article by PBS ("Worried about lead in your water? Flint pediatricians have this advice") cautions people about the dangers of lead paint, but just accepts that the problem in Flint is primarily due to the drinking water. 

It doesn't seem like the doctor who did the analysis is an expert in the built environment or in water chemistry so is it possible she just did not consider other causes or know what else to check? And now everyone is so focused on the drinking water that the actual cause of their problem is being missed? Recent test results of lead in drinking water in Flint seem to indicate this is a possibility. Out of a total of 7,131 tests to date, 6.5% of the sites tested had a lead level over the action limit of 15 ppb. And while this might be a concern if you were living in one of those homes over the limit, it is not quite the citywide risk it is being reported to be. According to the EPA's Lead and Copper Rule, the water supply is only required to address lead and copper in the drinking water if more than 10% of the sites tested are over 15 ppb.

Flint Water Analysis 2/4/2016

If the final result of all this testing proves lead in the drinking water in Flint isn't even above the action levels set by the EPA, this will serve as a good example of how data in the wrong hands can be misinterpreted and result in public panic and a waste of tax payer dollars without even solving the actual problem.

And will another result be that all the other cities with drinking water systems with lead level results above Flint's will begin to weigh whether or not it is worth letting the media know so they can also get more funding and free bottled water from celebrities. There's a similar size community I'm aware of that might not have lead levels over the action limit either, but according to a comparison shown below of the 2014 Consumer Confidence Reports from both communities, this water system does have a little more than twice the amount of lead Flint has. Based on the public's reaction to Flint, I'm thinking if this system drew attention to this fact, they could finally receive the millions they probably could use to upgrade their water system too. 

Lead Comparison 2014

In the end, I suppose we can say on the plus side this situation in Flint has resulted in bottled water companies having sold 234,490 cases of water for Flint since Jan. 9, 2016 (Source: State of Michigan), people being more aware of drinking water issues, and Flint receiving huge amount of funding for their water system. But I have to still wonder if the down side will be not having truly served the children of Flint?


If you are curious about where testing in Flint has taken place and want a visualization of the lead limits that are under (green) or exceed (red) the action limit of 15 ppb, you can check out a map I threw together from the current test results (there are a few outliers in the data, I apologize for not cleaning up):


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