Lead in the Water: What Happened in Flint

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On several of my recent inspections I’ve been asked about lead content in drinking water. Usually I don’t get those questions, but with the Flint, Michigan story in the news people are curious, and that’s a good thing.  I’m going to briefly summarize the situation, and help you decide if you should be concerned.

What Happened:

Flint, Michigan obtained their water through Detroit for 50 years, sourced from Lake Huron and the Detroit River. When that became too expensive, officials developed a plan to source it from the Flint River. The water in the Flint River has a lower ph, and more chlorides (salts) in it. That means it’s more corrosive. The corrosive reaction can be controlled with anti-corrosion additives, but local officials did not think they were necessary.  It turns out they were spectacularly wrong.  So, the newly sourced Flint River water began slowly corroding the lead supply pipes all over the area, and that lead ended up in the drinking water. To be clear, the Flint River water was not contaminated, the water supply pipes themselves were the source of the lead.

Should you be concerned:

If you live in Flint, yeah. Concerned and angry.  

Otherwise not really. Here in the Chicagoland area, almost all of of our water comes from Lake Michigan, through the Jardine Water Purification Plant, which is next to Navy Pier. Although we have plenty of lead supply pipe in our area, Chicago does utilize anti-corrosion additives, like Polyphosphate. It’s used to treat the inside of Chicago’s pipes, preventing the lead in old plumbing from contaminating the water supply.  You can actually pick up cheap, or even free test kits from stores like Home Depot if you’d like to test your own water at home. Using filters for drinking and cooking water can reduce the probability of ingesting lead, or any other contaminants. If you have a lead supply pipe to your home, (common in pre-1950’s construction) you can have it replaced, but the municipal supply might still be lead. Your local public works can most likely provide this information, but don’t be under the impression that they are going to do anything about it. We’re talking about billions of dollars to replace lead piping in major urban areas, so it’s going to happen very, very, slowly. And let’s not forget, when the proper protocols are followed (looking at you, Flint) there is virtually no cause for concern.

In Conclusion:

Chicagoland tap water is really, really safe. Want to be extra extra safe?  You can test your tap water.  Filter your drinking water from the tap. Your fridge probably has a filter in it already, just keep up with changing it according to manufacturer’s guidelines.  And lastly, make sure your local officials know that what happened in Flint is unacceptable.  They work for us you know.

As always, feel free to reach out with any questions.

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Andy Broomhead

License# 450.011279

Resource for Water Filters Here

More about Lead Here